U.S. designates Confucius Institutes as P.R.C. foreign missions

Foreign Affairs

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today announced that a Chinese organization that runs Confucius Institutes will be considered as a foreign mission. The move brings attention to the controversial state-backed language learning schools, but no immediate pain.

a map of where confucius institutes are in the united states
“All but six U.S. states have at least one Confucius Institute on university campuses,” according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (source of this map).

In February, the U.S. State Department designated five Chinese state-owned media outlets as official government entities under the Foreign Missions Act, meaning they would be treated as diplomatic outposts of the Chinese government and subject to the same constraints. In June, an additional four state media entities were given the same designation.

Today, the State Department announced the same designation for the center that oversees state-backed Confucius Institutes at American schools and universities.

  • Confucius Institutes operate within secondary and tertiary schools around the world, well funded by the Chinese government. The program began in 2004.
  • Confucius Institutes are supposed to be under the independent management of their local host schools, but questions have always surrounded how far independence can go when the money is coming from Beijing.

How will this affect existing Confucius Institutes in the U.S.?

The Wall Street Journal cites (paywall) State Department officials saying that “the designation won’t necessarily impact the operations of the center and the dozens of Confucius Institutes it oversees across the U.S.,” but it might “add pressure on their host schools and universities to rethink the institutes’ presence on campuses.”

Several American universities have already closed their Confucius Institutes, while Sweden has shut down every one that was operating in the country. Germany reportedly plans to do the same.