The University of Central Arkansas is host to a Confucius Institute. UCA says the mission of the institute is to “strengthen ties between the State of Arkansas and the People’s Republic of China, to enhance the mutual understanding of each respective culture and to promote Chinese language and culture within the State of Arkansas.”[i] UCA’s website says the institute opened in 2007 and was the 24th institute to open in the United States, and there are now over 500 institutes operating in the US.
Promoting mutual understanding between the United States and China and the offering of Chinese language courses are both good goals … but doing so through a Confucius Institute has become controversial.
Confucius Institutes have come under heavy scrutiny. In 2018, the FBI issued a warning to universities saying FBI is “watching warily” dozens of activities at Confucius Institutes. Then, in 2019 a bipartisan committee of the United States Senate determined the Chinese Communist Party controls nearly every aspect of the Confucius Institutes activities here in the United States.
A bipartisan committee of the United States Senate found that the Chinese Communist Party controls nearly every aspect of the Confucius Institutes activities here in the United States.
Congress banned the use of Defense Department funds for any Chinese language program at a university that hosts a Confucius Institute, unless the university obtains a waiver. One of the requirement for seeking a waiver prohibits the course from being taught by institute staff.[ii]
Learning about Chinese culture through the lens of the Chinese Communist Party propaganda is disturbing. What would you learn from a communist controlled program about the experience of Chinese dissidents, or about the Chinese Communist Party’s human rights violations, about persecution of Christians, Moslems, and ethnic minorities, about the views of the 23 million people of the island nation of Taiwan who don’t want China to take over their country, or about the struggles of the people of Hong Kong who want to retain their semi-autonomy.
The most recent news development concerns China flexing its muscle is the imposition of “national security laws” on Hong Kong to clamp down on protesters who want to keep Hong Kong’s autonomy.[iii] And, the most recent news in Arkansas about China was the arrest of a engineering professor at the University of Arkansas who hid financial ties to China in a bid to get grants from NASA.[iv]
Earlier this year United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to a gathering of our nation’s governors. Arkansas’ Governor Asa Hutchinson was in attendance. Secretary Pompeo warned the governors about the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to change our foreign policy using local economic ties and friendships with state and local politicians, efforts to steal our technology, and use of our educational institutions. Concerning Confucius Institutes, Secretary Pompeo said:
“Many of you are familiar with Confucius Institutes. Confucius Institutes purport to have the sole purpose of teaching Mandarin language skills and Chinese culture. A bipartisan Senate committee found last year in 2019 that the Chinese Communist Party controls nearly every aspect of the Confucius Institutes activities here in the United States.
Over the past few months, the University of Missouri, the University of Kansas, the University of Maryland have independently decided to close down their Confucius Institutes. After conducting their own reviews, schools in 22 other states are doing or have already done the same.
Sadly, China’s propaganda campaign starts even earlier than college. China has targeted K through 12 schools through its Confucius classrooms, the CCP’s program to influence kids in elementary middle and high schools around the world. Do you know that we have no ability to establish similar programs in China? I’m sure that doesn’t surprise you.
President Trump talked about reciprocity and trade. We should have reciprocity in all things. Today they have free rein in our system and we’re completely shut out from theirs. As of 2017 there were 519 of these classrooms in the United States. Beijing knows that today’s kids are tomorrow’s leaders.”
It is not just in the United States where the institutes are closing. Some other countries have closed them as well.
Many U.S. universities have closed their Confucius Institutes. We scanned news items about several closings and in those reports none of the universities mentioned anything about potential problems in the design of their programs. Instead, they attributed their closings to either Defense Department funding restrictions or on low enrollment.
Perhaps some universities will also use the Covid-19 pandemic’s disruption of the economy as an additional excuse to end their programs without ever having to defend their institutes against allegations of communist control.
There has been no announcement from the University of Central Arkansas about the future of their program.
Governor Hutchinson is aware of the U.S. government’s warnings about Confucius Institutes. Meanwhile he is promoting greater economic ties between China and Arkansas. His law firm provides legal representation for some Chinese companies that have received Arkansas economic incentives.