The United States has designated the Confucius Institute (CI), the global education program run by the Chinese government, as a foreign propaganda mission.
The order says that CI, which offers language and cultural programs abroad, is “owned or effectively controlled” by a foreign government.
Staff will be required to register and adhere to restrictions similar to those imposed at diplomatic embassies.
This comes against a backdrop of deteriorating relations between China and the United States.
In a statement announcing the move, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the Confucius Institute “an entity advancing global propaganda and Beijing’s campaign of malicious influence” in US classrooms and campuses.
“The United States wants to ensure that students on American campuses have access to the Chinese language and cultural offerings without any manipulation by the Chinese Communist Party and its proxies,” Pompeo continued, adding that the decision was taken to better inform educators.
Analysis: The impact of decoupling between the United States and China is increasing
Par Zhaoyin Feng, BBC Chinese, Washington DC
The Confucius Institute of China defines itself as a non-profit organization aimed at promoting Chinese language and culture.
For many American students, CI has been a useful platform for studying the Chinese language, but critics say the organization is far from innocent.
The institutes have been accused of pressuring host universities to censor speeches considered politically sensitive in Beijing. An American university has canceled plans to invite Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama to a conference. Another deleted a reference to Taiwan from a college speaker’s biography.
Beijing is likely to strike back, as it did when the United States called nine major Chinese state media “foreign missions.” But it’s hard to speculate on China’s goals, as educational exchanges have already eased considerably amid mounting tensions between the two countries.
The US Peace Corps’ long-standing program in China was cut short months ago by Washington itself.
Education, traditionally seen as a handy fruit for international collaboration, is now entangled in politics and is not spared by the US-Chinese decoupling.
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Tensions between the United States and China have increased at an accelerating pace in recent months.
The White House has accused Beijing of lying about the origins of the coronavirus, which emerged in China late last year, of using social media apps to spy on Americans, stealing intellectual property and hiding a wanted criminal in a Chinese embassy in the United States – to name just a few of the allegations.
The two countries ordered the closure of each other’s consulates in major cities last month.
What are CIs
Open to the general public, the Confucius Institutes promote the Chinese language but also offer courses in culture, calligraphy and cooking in tai chi. They sponsor educational exchanges and organize public events and conferences.
The first CI opened in 2004 in South Korea. According to official data, there were 548 Confucius Institutes in the world at the end of 2018, as well as 1193 Confucius classrooms based in primary and secondary schools. There are currently around 75 active Confucius Institutes in the United States, according to the South China Morning Post.
CIs are joint ventures between the host university or school, a partner university in China, and Hanban, a controversial agency under the Chinese Ministry of Education. It oversees CI’s operations and provides partial funding, staff and other supports.
Supported by significant government funding, China’s goal was to have 1,000 such institutes by 2020 in what it calls a “Confucius revolution” to tap into growing overseas demand for it. learn Chinese.
Some Western academics believe the project poses a serious threat to freedom of thought and expression in education.
Others defend them, pointing out the benefit of providing access to Chinese language learning that cash-strapped universities simply cannot afford.