The U.S. Department of State has declared that the Confucius Institute U.S. Center, which has long operated an institute at the University of Oklahoma, is a foreign mission of the People’s Republic of China.
In a statement on the action, the U.S. Department of State said the designation recognizes the Confucius Institute U.S. Center “for what it is: an entity advancing Beijing’s global propaganda and malign influence campaign on U.S. campuses and K-12 classrooms. Confucius Institutes are funded by the PRC and part of the Chinese Communist Party’s global influence and propaganda apparatus.”
U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, praised the department’s decision.
“Today the Administration took another step to push back against the influence of Communist China and to stand up for our intellectual property, our education system, and our values,” Lankford said. “I am grateful for President Trump, Secretary (Mike) Pompeo, and the rest of the administration’s ongoing work to combat China’s malign influence here in the U.S. and around the world. American universities should recognize that Confucius Institutes promote the oppression of human rights that Chinese journalists, teachers, and people of faith have endured for years. We should not naively allow Confucius Institutes to operate on U.S. campuses while the people of Hong Kong experience China’s tightening grasp on their freedoms and autonomy. Today’s move by our government shows that when we see something, we say something about communist China’s actions even as they’re trying to keep them quiet.”
OU has had a Confucius Institute on campus since 2006 and is one of more than 100 American colleges and universities (and 500-plus high schools) that have hosted Confucius Institutes.
In addition to its work at the university level, the OU Confucius Institute provided “teaching materials, funding to support teaching staff, and tools for Chinese language and culture programs” in K-12 schools around the state, including in the Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Edmond, Norman, Putnam City, Enid, Jenks, Bixby, Union, Owasso, Muskogee, Fort Gibson, Crescent, Lawton, and Comanche school districts.
In 2018, an OU spokesman said the university had received more than $1 million in funding for the institute from the Hanban, an agency of the Chinese Ministry of Education. Donations for the institute were directed to the OU Foundation, an independent not-for-profit corporation, making associated records exempt from the Oklahoma Open Records Act.
Lankford’s Transparency for Confucius Institutes Act included provisions to make institute-university agreements publicly available online, remove the confidentiality section of agreements, and remove the Chinese assistant director position from institutes.
Earlier this year, the University of Oklahoma announced it was in the process of closing its Confucius Institute, due in part to a U.S. Department of State investigation.
“In March 2019, the U. S. Department of State conducted an inquiry into the Confucius Institute housed at OU and made certain operational recommendations,” OU spokesperson Kesha Keith said. “In that context, and against the backdrop of evolving programmatic, budgetary, and managerial needs, and after requesting faculty input, the university took the necessary steps to begin closing the Confucius Institute.”