China's Confucius Institutes Face Scrutiny from US as Tensions Flare

By That's, August 13, 2020

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China’s long-established language teaching program appears to be next on the Trump administration’s radar. Bloomberg reported that Confucius Institutes in the US may need to register as ‘foreign missions,’ according to people familiar with the matter who requested not to be identified.

The designation would essentially conclude that Confucius Institutes are “substantially owned or effectively controlled” by a foreign government, subjecting the program to similar administrative requirements as those of embassies and consulates. The US also gave several China-based news organizations the foreign mission designation earlier this year.

The US State Department did not immediately respond to Bloomberg’s request for comment.

Confucius Institutes were first established in 2004, with the “aim to promote Chinese language and culture in foreign countries,” according to its official website.

The Chinese government-funded program has drawn scrutiny from both US government officials as well as the National Association of Scholars, which has argued that the institutes are a way that China can “enhance its own image” in American colleges and universities. As of June 30, there were 75 Confucius Institutes in the US, according to NAS.

During an interview on Tuesday, President Donald Trump said that Americans will have to learn to speak Chinese if he doesn’t win the election, hinting that his Democratic opponent Joe Biden would take a lighter stance on the PRC.

Following Trump’s comments, a video of the president’s granddaughter singing a song in Mandarin started trending on Weibo, with one netizen posting, “What’s wrong with learning Chinese?”

On Wednesday, State-run newspaper Global Times published an article titled, ‘More Americans should be encouraged to learn Chinese,’ which argued that “learning a country’s language helps understand the country better.” GT reported that an estimated 300-400 million Chinese students are studying English, in comparison around 200,000 US students are studying Chinese in some form.

[Cover image via Wikimedia]

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