In a rebuke from American officials, a Chinese-language education group will now be designated as a diplomatic mission. The new measures follow years of controversy surrounding the group.
When it comes to learning a new language, vocabulary memorization and grammar rules make up part of the learning process. Depending on the instructor, textbook, and even political environment, language instruction can have ulterior motives. At least, that is what many academic institutions and the current administration believe of the Confucius Institutes.
In recent years, the Chinese language education group operating in the US has drawn criticism over its curriculum, which has led dozens of universities to close institutes hosted on campus. The accusations center around the organization ties to the Chinese Communist Government and suspicions that the language program is responsible for spreading Chinese Communist propaganda.
Pressure against Confucius Institutes has ramped up recently with the US announcing that it now designates the group a diplomatic mission, according to a report by the New York Times.
“The goal of these actions is simple: to ensure that American educators and school administrators can make informed choices about whether these CCP-backed programs should be allowed to continue, and if so, in what fashion,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a press statement last week. “The United States wants to ensure that students on U.S. campuses have access to Chinese language and cultural offerings free from the manipulation of the Chinese Communist Party and its proxies.”
Though the move will change the status of the Confucius Institutes, the new designation does not mean that academic institutions still hosting the programs will need to close them. However, the organization will now be required to give the State Department lists of employees and property holdings, along with information on all its institutes and centers.
Still, the Chinese Communist Party responded to the move, accusing the administration of further aggravating tensions between the two countries. In a daily briefing, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian claimed the accusations had no basis. “The relevant US approach is to demonize and stigmatize the normal operation of China-U.S. cooperation projects. We strongly deplore and oppose it,” Zhao said at a daily briefing. He said China would “reserve the right to make further responses to this matter.”
Currently, the Confucius Institutes operate in about 500 K-12 classrooms and 65 US university campuses, though those numbers are shrinking due to concerns over propaganda and the interference in academic independence over issues like Hong Kong and Tibet. China considers the institutes in the same class as related organizations in the west, like the British Institute, the Alliance Françaises, and Germany’s Goethe Institutes. A notable difference, critics contend, is that those entities are not housed in universities.