GOP Slams Biden Reversal of Trump-era Rule Targeting Chinese 'Propaganda' on Campuses

Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas has joined the list of Republicans condemning the Biden administration for withdrawing a proposed rule that required campuses to disclose links to Chinese cultural programs accused of promoting propaganda.

The Confucius Institute U.S. Center facilitates Chinese language and cultural courses in around 500 K-12 schools and 65 colleges across the country.

China hawks in the U.S. have long accused the programs of being a tool of the Chinese Communist Party, pointing to the institute's links to the Hanban agency, which is affiliated with Beijing's Ministry of Education.

On December 31, 2020, the Trump administration submitted a proposed rule to the Department of Homeland Security that would have required American educational establishments to disclose links with Confucius Institutes. The rule would also apply to other cultural institutes or student groups funded directly or indirectly by China.

Confucius Institute class in Lagos
A Chinese language teacher at the Confucius Institute in Lagos, Nigeria, in 2016. Some U.S. lawmakers are concerned about the presence of the institute on American campuses. Getty Images/PIUS UTOMI EKPEI

On January 26, less than one week into the Biden administration, the policy was revoked, Campus Reform reported. It cited a spokesperson from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and records from the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

The news sparked accusations from some GOP lawmakers that this would allow Beijing to push propaganda unchecked in American schools and universities.

In a statement, Sen. Cotton described the Confucius Institute programs as "front groups for the Chinese Communist Party."

"The federal government ought to shut down these regime-run institutes or, at a minimum, require colleges to disclose their secret agreements with them," the Arkansas senator said. "Instead, the Biden administration is allowing a foreign influence operation to continue in the shadows."

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) said in a statement that the move "emboldens the Chinese Communist Party" and would help "fuel the propaganda of America's number one adversary."

Rep. Rick Allen (R-GA) tweeted: "The Chinese Community Party's influence on America's education system is a national security threat, and we must require academic institutions to be transparent about their ties."

Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader, said the administration was "rewarding China by allowing their propaganda to infiltrate our college campuses."

When contacted by Newsweek, a White House spokesperson denied GOP claims that the Biden administration had withdrawn the draft rule, saying it had not been submitted to the Federal Register.

This was because the Office of Budget and Management had not completed its review of the rule, so "it was stuck in OMB's interagency review on Inauguration Day."

Biden's chief of staff Ron Klain announced a freeze on all regulatory processes on January 20, which meant the draft rule "was withdrawn from the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs process automatically and would need to be resubmitted," the spokesperson added.

Last year, the then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared the Confucius Institutes a "foreign mission" of China, describing them as part of the Communist Party's "global influence and propaganda apparatus."

Other critics include the non-profit Athenai Institute (Action to Halt the Expansion of Neo-Authoritarian Influence), which says the institute has pressured host universities to censor politically sensitive speeches.

Newsweek has contacted the Confucius Institute U.S. Center for comment.

A spokesperson for the center, Erik Eging, told Newsweek last August that Pompeo had displayed a "fundamental misunderstanding" of the role of the institutes, whose staff were not Chinese government officials or representatives.

A Government Accountability Office report in February 2019 noted criticism of the programs, but also praised the opportunities they provided students, such as classes in Chinese language, calligraphy and tai chi.

"Apparently, we are living in a time where teaching a foreign language is seen as a political act by some people," Eging told Newsweek last August.

This story has been updated to include a statement from the White House.