The Chinese government has infiltrated nearly every sector of the U.S. education system via a package of programs and monetary schemes that seek to indoctrinate American children and bring the Communist government's propaganda into the classroom, according to a new report by a Senate investigatory body.
The wide-ranging report by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has found that China has spent nearly $200 million on educational entities known as Confucius Institutes. These programs have been instated in U.S. schools across the country with the mission of indoctrinating students and painting a sympathetic portrait of the Chinese Communist government, according to the report.
The institutes are shrouded in mystery and have been the cause of much consternation on Capitol Hill and elsewhere as information about their reach and power in the United States becomes clearer.
While the programs appear on their surface to be mundane—mainly focusing on language and cultural issues—the Senate committee found that these institutes constitute a threat to the United States. The Chinese government, the committee found, "is attempting to change the impression in the United States and around the world that China is an economic and security threat."
There are more than 100 Confucius Institutes currently operating in America—the most of any country—and China has plans to open many more, according to the report.
"As China opened over 100 additional Confucius Institutes in the United States over the last 15 years, the Department of Education remained silent," the Senate committee warns in its report.
While Confucius Institutes have become a mainstay on college campuses across the United States, the Chinese government also has plans to expand into the kindergarten through 12th grade curriculum.
"The Chinese government also funds and provides language instructors for Confucius Classrooms, which offer classes for kindergarten through 12th grade students," according to the report. "Confucius Classrooms are currently in 519 elementary, middle, and high schools in the United States. Continued expansion of the program is a priority for China."
Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio), a member of the Senate committee that conducted the investigation, said the bipartisan report shows a "stunning lack of transparency" about how these Chinese institutes function in the United States
"As China has expanded Confucius Institutes here in the U.S., it has systematically shut down key U.S. State Department public diplomacy efforts on Chinese college campuses," Portman said in a statement. "We learned that schools in the United States—from kindergarten to college—have provided a level of access to the Chinese government that the Chinese government has refused to provide to the United States."
"Absent full transparency regarding how Confucius Institutes operate and full reciprocity for U.S. cultural outreach efforts on college campuses in China, Confucius Institutes should not continue in the United States," Portman said.
As the committee investigated these programs, it found that some U.S. schools contractually agree to uphold both Chinese and U.S. laws in order to get money for various programs.
Additionally, "the Chinese teachers sign contracts with the Chinese government pledging they will not damage the national interests of China," according to the report. "Such limitations attempt to export China's censorship of political debate and prevent discussion of potentially politically sensitive topics."
U.S. school officials who spoke to Senate investigators disclosed that Confucius Institutes shun controversial topics, such as China's poor human rights record and other hot button topics that could be damaging to the country's reputation.
"Confucius Institutes exist as one part of China's broader, long-term strategy," the Senate committee concluded. "Through Confucius Institutes, the Chinese government is attempting to change the impression in the United States and around the world that China is an economic and security threat."
There are provisions mandating that Chinese law be upheld on U.S. soil and the amount of public disclosure surrounding the institutes is extremely low. If a U.S. school were to spill the beans about these programs, the contracts—and money—would dry up.
"The Subcommittee obtained a contract between Chinese teachers and Hanban that requires Chinese instructors at U.S. schools to "‘conscientiously safeguard national interests.'" The contracts are terminated if the Chinese instructors "‘violate Chinese law' or ‘engage in activities detrimental to national interests,'" according to the report.
Chinese teachers tied to these programs report directly to government bodies. They also are made aware that any deviation from the program will result in their termination.
"While school officials have the opportunity to interview candidates for these positions, there is little-to-no transparency into how the Chinese government selects the individuals that schools must choose from," the report found. "Nor did U.S. school officials interviewed by the Subcommittee know if candidates would meet the school's hiring standards."
"Confucius Institutes report to the Chinese government's Ministry of Education Office of Chinese Language Council International, known as ‘Hanban,'" according to the report. "Confucius Institutes are funded, controlled, and mostly staffed by Hanban to present Chinese-government approved programming to students at U.S. schools. Hanban approves each Confucius Institutes' annual budget and has veto authority over events and speakers."
Given the massive amount of money being spent by China on these programs, the Senate committee found evidence that U.S. schools are not properly reporting these donations, which amount to foreign gifts.
"Despite that legal requirement, nearly 70 percent of U.S. schools that received more than $250,000 from Hanban [a body that supports the programs] failed to properly report that amount to the Department of Education," according to the report.
Despite evidence that some of the Chinese teachers are misleading the State Department about the nature of their work in the United States, the Confucius Institutes have remained largely unbothered by the U.S. government.
In 2018, the State Department revoked 32 visas for Confucius-tied teachers who, instead of doing research work as they claimed, were actually teaching at K-12 schools.
"The State Department also found evidence that one Confucius Institute Chinese director improperly coached the teachers to discuss their research during interviews with State Department investigators," according to the report.
The State Department only conducts two to four field interviews a year.