Trump Administration Pushes Scrutiny of Chinese Influence on U.S. Schools

TOPSHOT - This picture taken on October 10, 2017 shows a party flag of the Chinese Communist Party displayed at an exhibition showcasing China's progress in the past five years at the Beijing Exhibition Center. China's police and censorship organs have kicked into high gear to ensure that the party's …
WANG ZHAO/AFP via Getty Images

The Trump administration is attempting another push to scrutinize the influence of the Chinese government on U.S. schools.

Axios reported Monday the administration is trying to push through a final rule that would require K-12 schools and universities with foreign exchange programs to reveal any contracts, partnership,s or financial arrangements with Confucius Institutes or classrooms.

Schools that do not report the required information would be denied certification for their exchange program.

“This lack of reporting makes it impossible for the U.S. government to discern the level of potential influence of China on the U.S. educational system,” a senior DHS official said, according to the report.

The Washington Free Beacon reported Monday, as well, federal documents reveal that, over a period of six years, Chinese entities linked to the military, cyber attacks, and espionage, directed at least $88 million to U.S. colleges and universities.

According to the report:

Institutions controlled by the Chinese government—state-owned enterprises, state-controlled public universities, government-controlled nonprofits, and other sources—collectively donated at least $315 million to American colleges between 2014 and 2019. More than a quarter of the contributions—27 percent—came from either state-owned defense contractors or public universities that closely partner with the Chinese military to conduct defense research.

In October 2019, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) urged the Senate to investigate China’s influence on American schools.

Breitbart News reported:

Hawley’s concerns center on an education group called the “Confucius Institute,” a Chinese-government agency that has built partnerships with American colleges and universities.

The Confucius Institute is steeped in controversy. Critics have accused the organization, and by extension, the Chinese government, of seeking control over messaging at American universities.

In December 2019, a U.S. Education Department investigation revealed $1.3 billion in unreported donations to U.S. universities from foreign countries, including China, Russia, and Qatar.

The department said the unreported foreign funds discovered were only a small portion of the donations from foreign countries that are pouring into U.S. campuses.

The investigation into the foreign funds was made after Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Tom Carper (D-DE), chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, released an initial bipartisan report that pointedly sounded a warning about the influence of foreign funds and the Chinese government throughout U.S. K-12 classrooms and on up to university campuses.

“[T]he Department of Education does not conduct regular oversight of U.S. schools’ compliance with required foreign gift reporting,” the report noted, and ultimately led the U.S. Education Department to remind universities of the requirement to report foreign funding.

The Senate subcommittee’s final report specifically observed the role of China’s Thousand Talents Plan (TTP), a talent recruitment program that was launched in 2008 and is operated by the Chinese Communist Party. The report noted:

The TTP targets U.S.-based researchers and scientists, regardless of ethnicity or citizenship, who focus on or have access to cutting-edge research and technology. In response to U.S. government scrutiny, China has attempted to delete online references to its talent recruitment plans and reportedly instructed Chinese institutions on how to avoid additional U.S. scrutiny.

In September, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged state and city officials to ensure their colleges and universities are not inappropriately influenced by organizations with ties to the Chinese Communist Party, including the Confucius Institutes.

“Telling the truth about China isn’t partisan,” the secretary said. “It’s principled. And it protects our people.”

Breitbart News reported in May on a New York Times account in 2012 of an interview with Martin Davidson, chairman of Adam Smith International, who observed the Confucius Institute financially incentivizes colleges and universities for allowing control over campus speech regarding China.

Davidson said at the time:

The Chinese are very clear on what they are trying to achieve. They want to change the perception of China — to combat negative propaganda with positive propaganda. And they use the word “propaganda” in Chinese. But I doubt they have to say, “We’ll only give you this money if you never criticize China.” The danger is more of self-censorship — which is a very subtle thing.

At this point, it is unclear whether the Trump administration rule will be entered into the Federal Register prior to Joe Biden’s inauguration, though Trump officials are pushing to have that happen.

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