A bipartisan student-led effort to rid American college campuses of Chinese government influence is calling on institutions of higher learning to sever ties with Confucius Institutes.
Confucius Institutes are funded by the Chinese government and are prevalent on campuses across the country.
The Confucius Institute at the University of Oklahoma, for example, has a stated purpose of supporting “Oklahoma educators in their efforts to teach the Chinese language, and to assist Oklahoma businesses that wish to do business in the Chinese speaking world.”
But the programs are controversial, particularly given the country’s current health situation, and there have been concerns about China’s taking advantage of its influence on American education through propaganda and disinformation.
While Democratic politicians nationally have largely kowtowed to China, even as the country struggles with a pandemic which originated from China’s suppression of information about the coronavirus, students are ready to expel Chinese influence from their schools, and the issue has bipartisan support.
The Athenai Institute, which was recently formed and describes itself as a “nonprofit dedicated to limiting the influence of the Chinese Communist Party on U.S. college campuses,” is calling on schools to sever all ties with communist China.
In a letter that was signed by the national chairs of both the College Republicans and College Democrats, Athenai demanded the closure of the Confucius Institutes and “full and public disclosure of all ties, both financial and academic, between centers of higher learning and all Chinese state agencies and proxies.”
“The Chinese government’s flagrant attempts to coerce and control discourse at universities in the United States and around the world pose an existential threat to academic freedom as we know it. It is a civic and moral imperative that we protect that freedom,” the letter read.
Athenai was started “in consultation with activists including Yang Jianli, Teng Biao, and Nury Turkel, Athenai advocates for free discussion of human rights abuses on campuses by pushing student governments and university administrations to close Confucius Institutes, disclose ties to authoritarian governments, and establish mechanisms and policies to prevent the Chinese regime and other authoritarian governments from encroaching on academic discourse,” the group explained on its website.
Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri challenged the influence of Confucius Institutes in 2019, describing them as “a known threat to academic freedom,” and “a danger to our national defense and security,” according to National Review.
Hawley was particularly concerned about the influence of communist China on campuses at the University of Missouri and the Missouri-based Webster University.
But the potential for China to impact American education is far-reaching.
The National Association of Scholars estimates there are currently 86 Confucius Institutes on campuses in the U.S.
“Since 2004, the Chinese government has sponsored Confucius Institutes on college and university campuses around the world. An agency of the Chinese Ministry of Education, called the Hanban, provides teachers, textbooks, and operating funds,” an article on the NAS website read.
Some of the institutes have closed since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, but the Athenai Institute, which is led by students, wants them removed from all campuses nationwide immediately.
At National Review, Rachelle Peterson reported on the nefarious motivations of the Chinese presence on American schools.
“The greater danger is subtle. Confucius Institutes teach the Chinese government’s preferred version of Chinese culture, a version whitewashed of Muslim Uighurs, 1 million of whom are currently held in concentration camps in Xinjiang. Confucius Institute teachers, Chinese nationals hired and paid by the Chinese government, are coached to omit the Tiananmen Square massacre and to represent Taiwan as part of China,” Peterson wrote.
In its letter, the Athenai Institute outlined serious concerns about how Confucius Institutes parrot Chinese “propaganda” and use “the threat of financial pressure against universities.”
The group particularly called out China for its human rights abuses and its censorship of free speech.
While Democrats such as presumptive nominee Joe Biden have either a blind spot or a soft spot with regard to the problem posed by Chinese interests in America, these students seem to understand that China is no ally to global freedom.
Unlike the old guard of Democrats, young Democratic leadership is willing to sign on to protect the rights of American students to receive an education that is at least free of Chinese influence, and that is something that should be recognized.
Indeed, it signals that the next generation of Democrats might be willing to protect their sovereign rights and recognize that China is a threat to Democracy and is currently the country’s greatest geopolitical foe.
“The world is watching, and the fate of liberal democracy — based on the fundamental dignity of the human person — depends on our success,” the Athenai Institute concluded in its letter.
Republicans on the House Oversight Committee announced an investigation into the presence of Chinese Confucius Institutes earlier this month, according to National Review.
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