China's Trojan Horse Confucius Institutes Persist on Campuses | Opinion

Would any sane nation permit its enemies to freely propagandize at its educational institutions; intimidate faculty into silence, self-censorship, and complicity in enemy information operations; and hold funds over said institutions' heads as leverage?

If the answer is a resounding "No," as it should be, then it is hard to see the American academy as anything other than insane—and dangerously so—when it comes to China and its Confucius Institutes, as a bombshell report from the National Association of Scholars (NAS) makes clear.

The report demonstrates that news of Confucius Institutes' death in America has been greatly exaggerated. The story of Confucius Institutes in America is a cautionary tale illustrating the ability of China to weather efforts to combat its malign machinations, and the corruption of the very institutions that ought to be standing as bulwarks against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The CCP's modus operandi in its long march towards global hegemony has been to encourage "open," seemingly non-hostile relations with foreign nations to penetrate, exploit, and influence them. The West has for decades, both out of greed and naiveté, been all too willing to comply. Confucius Institutes, which began appearing in the U.S. in 2005, and came under heightened scrutiny during the Donald Trump presidency, were but one aspect of China's game.

Evidence emerged that of the more than 100 institutes on college campuses at their peak, these purported centers of U.S.-Chinese cultural exchange, which sometimes offered for-credit classes, were funded, guided, and staffed by and in accordance with the CCP, serving as Trojan horses for the regime that enabled it to project soft power.

As NAS' Rachelle Peterson, author of a comprehensive 2017 study on Confucius Institutes, told me during an interview following the study's launch, the institutes were "covert threats...working to co-opt American colleges and universities." They did so by providing CCP-approved teachers and textbooks, and strings-attached funding aimed at promoting the Chinese government's favored narratives, while suppressing information about the regime's tyranny and brutality.

NAS President Peter Wood, in a preface to Peterson's 2017 report, characterized Confucius Institutes as "centers of threats and intimidation directed at Chinese nationals and Chinese Americans, and as cover for covert activities on the part of the Chinese government."

In short, China used our commitment to academic freedom to promote its tyranny.

A landmark 2019 U.S. Senate report on China's impact on the U.S. education system relied heavily on Peterson's report. Ultimately, amid warnings from U.S. law enforcement and lawmakers, as well as related executive and legislative action, the vast majority of schools shuttered their Confucius Institutes—or so we were led to believe.

As Peterson and her co-authors detail in their new NAS report, "After Confucius Institutes," 104 of 118 once-extant institutes have closed or are in the process of doing so. But the vast majority have been resurrected, often under new names but with the same original Chinese partner institutions.

Chinese flag
BEIJING, CHINA - FEBRUARY 04: The Chinese flag is flown during the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics at the Beijing National Stadium on February 04, 2022 in Beijing, China. Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Stunningly, the report's authors write that:

In no cases are we sufficiently confident to classify any university as having fully closed its Confucius Institute. All four of our case study institutions showed evidence of continued collaboration with the Chinese government. Of the additional 100 colleges and universities that have closed a CI, our research could not confirm a single complete closure of the Confucius Institute.

Overall we find that the Chinese government has carefully courted American colleges and universities, seeking to persuade them to keep their Confucius Institutes or, failing that, to reopen similar programs under other names. American colleges and universities, too, appear eager to replace their Confucius Institutes with other forms of engagement with China, frequently in ways that mimic the major problems with Confucius Institutes.

Some of these universities continue receiving money from the very Chinese government agencies that had funded the Confucius Institutes.

The rationales the schools provided for "closing" their Confucius Institutes are even more disheartening. Only five out of the 104 cited concern about the Chinese government, by NAS' count. A desire to set up a new partnership with China was by far the most common reason schools gave for terminating their institutes, while changes in public policy—namely the challenges government action might present, including fears over loss of federal funding—came in second.

Perhaps under a president whose Department of Justice recently terminated its preeminent counterintelligence China Initiative, which focused on preventing the CCP from exploiting America's research and academic institutions, the actions of our academic institutions should not surprise us.

It certainly should not surprise us that, as NAS documents, China's Hanban, which falls under its Ministry of Education and had overseen and funded Confucius Institutes, rebranded the institutes and encouraged partner schools to seek out alternative partnerships with Beijing.

Projecting soft power is critical for the CCP to achieve its hegemonic aspirations, and it will use any and every available means, including subterfuge, to do so.

America's institutions of higher learning—much like Woke Capital, Big Tech, and the media—clearly will not sever their relations with the CCP for the good of the country of their volition. It would appear legislative action is the only solution.

It is incumbent on Congress to act, and if Congress is itself too compromised on China to do so, Americans must elect a new one that will not subordinate our national interests to those of our greatest adversary.

Ben Weingarten is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, fellow at the Claremont Institute and senior contributor to The Federalist. He is the author of American Ingrate: Ilhan Omar and the Progressive-Islamist Takeover of the Democratic Party (Bombardier, 2020). Ben is the founder and CEO of ChangeUp Media LLC, a media consulting and production company. Subscribe to his newsletter at bit.ly/bhwnews, and follow him on Twitter: @bhweingarten.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.