President Joe Biden is being criticized this week for his recent decision to revoke a proposed Trump-era rule that would have required U.S.educational institutions to disclose their relationships with a controversial international network of Communist Chinese-linked language and cultural centers.
The Biden administration late last month quietly scuttled a directive issued by the Trump White House in its waning days. The rule, if implemented, would have required schools with foreign exchange programs to "disclose [their] agreements with Confucius Institutes and classrooms."
Confucius Institutes are associations formed at schools and universities worldwide; they are nominally meant to promote Chinese culture and language, though they have been cited for allegedly pushing Chinese Communist Party (CCP) doctrine at their various sites across the globe.
The international program is overseen in China ultimately by the communist government's Ministry of Education via the government Office of Chinese Language Council International, or "Hanban." The Chinese education minister, Chen Baosheng, has himself been a Communist Party member for several decades and has at times managed CCP propaganda during his rise to the country's upper education administration.
A 2019 bipartisan report from the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs determined that funding for the programs "comes with strings that can compromise academic freedom."
"The Chinese government approves all teachers, events, and speakers," the report said. "Some U.S. schools contractually agree that both Chinese and U.S. laws will apply. The Chinese teachers sign contracts with the Chinese government pledging they will not damage the national interests of China."
"Such limitations attempt to export China's censorship of political debate and prevent discussion of potentially politically sensitive topics," the report added, noting that "some U.S. schools' contracts with Hanban include non-disclosure provisions."
Senators criticize decision to revoke disclosure rule
None of the nearly dozen Democrats serving on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations responded to queries regarding the Biden administration's decision, including whether or not senators had concerns that the Confucius Institute's programming might be influenced by the politics of the Chinese Communist Party.
Multiple GOP senators, meanwhile, criticized Biden's decision
Indiana Sen. Todd Young on Thursday wrote on Twitter that the Trump administration rule would have allowed U.S. authorities "to ensure proper scrutiny of the Chinese Communist Party's influence in U.S. academia."
"Why would the Biden Admin delete such a common sense requirement?" he asked.
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, meanwhile, said in a press release that the rule revocation was "deeply disappointing and surprising considering the serious nature of China's efforts to expand its influence operations inside the United States."
Pointing to the 2019 report, Portman said in the release: "[T]here is a stunning lack of transparency about how Confucius Institutes operate inside the United States ... Absent full transparency regarding how and where Confucius Institutes operate, Confucius Institutes should not operate in the United States and be allowed to influence American students."
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio claimed on Twitter that the FBI "has warned about [China's] Communist Party using [the Confucius Institute] to infiltrate American schools."
In a 2019 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified that as "part of China's soft power strategy," the Institutes "offer a platform to disseminate Chinese government or Chinese Communist Party propaganda, to encourage censorship, restrict academic freedom" in the U.S.
Rubio said through a spokesman that the Trump administration had taken "a positive step in mandating schools and universities disclose their partnerships with these agents of Chinese government influence."
"That President Biden would undo this important action is deeply disturbing," Rubio added. "By failing to hold China accountable for running these foreign influence operations, the Biden Administration is calling into question its stated commitment to maintain a policy that treats China as a strategic competitor and protects American interests and values from its malign influence."
Tennessee Sen. Bill Haggerty was more blunt, writing on Twitter: "Confucius Institutes are nothing more than launching pads for the [Chinese Communist Party] to exert their predatory propaganda. The Biden Administration's rollback here is dangerous!"
The National Association of Scholars estimates that there are 63 Confucius Institutes in the U.S. as of January of this year.
The group also states that "most K-12 schools that partner with the Hanban have 'Confucius Classrooms,' of which there are about 500 in the United States."