On Tuesday morning, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita is expected to announce that he has launched an investigation into Valparaiso University’s ties to the Confucius Institutes, which are widely regarded as the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda arm.

Rokita’s office said in a statement that the investigation will “look into any possible violation of the Higher Education Act of 1965 or Indiana’s Deceptive Consumer Sales Act” and seeks to identify and get to the bottom of “the true intent of any relationships between Valparaiso University’s programming and the Chinese Communist Party.”

Rokita’s office added:

The Chinese Communist Party has made no secret regarding the intent and purposes of Confucius Institutes embedded in American universities. In a 2010 People’s Daily article, Chinese “Minister of Propaganda” Liu Yunshan said these institutes exist to “coordinate the efforts of overseas and domestic propaganda, [and] further create a favorable international environment for us.” He goes on to say, “With regard to key issues that influence our sovereignty and safety, we should actively carry out international propaganda battles against issuers such as Tibet, Xinjiang, Taiwan, human rights, and Falun Gong.”

These propaganda efforts are broadly referred to by China as the “United Front”. According to a report issued by the congressionally created United States – China Economic and Security Review Commission, “China uses what it calls ‘United Front’ work to co-opt and neutralize sources of potential opposition to the policies and authority of its ruling Chinese Communist Party.”

According to the statement, Valparaiso University received more than $1 million from the Chinese government between 2010 and 2019 and has not disclosed how the money was spent.

The statement also included key findings from a US report released in 2019. The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on the Threat posed by Confucius Institutes and Similar Entities:

  • Chinese directors and teachers at Confucius Institutes pledge to protect Chinese national interests. Chinese teachers should “conscientiously safeguard national interests,” and their contract terminates if they “violate Chinese law” or “engage in activities detrimental to national interests.”
  • Since 2006, the Chinese government has provided more than $158 million to more than 100 U.S. schools for Confucius Institutes.
  • The Chinese Communist Party controls nearly every aspect of Confucius Institutes at U.S. schools, including its funding, staff, and all programming. It even has veto authority over events and speakers.
  • The Chinese government also funds teachers for Confucius Classrooms in the United States, which teach Chinese language and culture in K-12 schools. There are more than 1,000 Confucius Classrooms worldwide and more than 500 in the United States. Expanding the Confucius Classroom program is a priority for the Chinese Communist Party.
  • There is little transparency in the selection of Chinese directors and teachers who staff Confucius Institutes. They are vetted and hired by the Chinese government, and U.S. universities choose from a pool of applicants approved by the Chinese Communist Party.

“Our investigation seeks to uncover whether the Chinese government has attempted to exert political influence and manipulate the attitudes and beliefs of Hoosiers through their Confucius Institutes,” Rokita said in a statement. “Our office will use every tool at our disposal to protect Hoosiers and put liberty into action.”

CIA Director William Burns said during his confirmation hearing earlier this year that Confucius Institute programs should be banned from public schools and universities in the United States.

What are Confucius Institutes?

China says its Confucius Institutes are a “bridge reinforcing friendship” between it and the rest of the world, but these educational outlets are facing increasing scrutiny amid claims they are spreading propaganda, extending Chinese censorship and even conducting espionage.

First set up in 2004 in South Korea, Confucius Institutes (CIs) are officially aimed at promoting Chinese language and culture around the world.

These institutes, named after the country’s most renowned philosopher, are normally run as joint-ventures between Chinese and international universities, and are operated and partly funded under the auspices of the education ministry’s Chinese Language Council International, known as the Hanban.

All CIs teach Chinese language and culture but their other offerings vary. Some offer credit-bearing courses to university students and sponsor educational exchangers, while others provide a wide range of cultural activities – ranging from calligraphy, Chinese dance and cooking to tai chi, Chinese opera and traditional medicine – for the general public. 

China had initially hoped for a “Confucius revolution” that would allow it to tap into the growing overseas demand for Mandarin lessons and establish 1,000 institutes around the world by the end of this year. 

By the end of last year it had fallen some way short of that target. There were 541 Confucius Institutes in 162 countries, alongside 1,193 “Confucius classrooms” in elementary and secondary schools.

But the number of institutes in the United States has fallen as they come under increasing scrutiny, especially under the Trump administration, dropping from 90 last year to 72 in September this year, with another five scheduled to close by the end of next year, according to the National Association of Scholars. (More detail)

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