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University of Texas at Austin Nixes Beijing-Funded Propaganda Institute

by The Daily Signal | 3.27.18

Helle Dale / @Helledale / January 29, 2018

Helle C. Dale is the Heritage Foundation’s senior fellow in public diplomacy. Her work focuses on the U.S. government’s institutions and programs for strategic outreach to the public of foreign countries, as well as more traditional diplomacy. Read her research.

The University of Texas at Austin has become the latest North American institution of higher learning to reject the idea of a Chinese Confucius Institute on its campus.

Confucius Institutes are major elements in the Chinese global propaganda offensive, being offered with millions of dollars in funding to universities and colleges around the world by the Chinese Communist Party’s educational and cultural division.

The ostensible purpose is promoting Chinese-language instruction and cultural understanding, which many cash-strapped universities find appealing.

In reality, however, Confucius Institutes attempt to control campus debate and further a narrowly defined, Beijing-approved vision of Chinese history and its political system.

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Gregory Fenves, the president of the University of Texas at Austin, deserves credit for acting on warnings against inviting a Confucius Institute on campus, which was being negotiated by the university’s China Public Policy Center.

The funding would come via the China-United States Exchange Foundation, a Hong Kong-based foundation whose international influence operations are being managed by the Chinese Communist Party.

Fenves reached his decision after a lengthy internal investigation, and a Jan. 2 letter from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, warned the university against participating in the spread of Chinese propaganda. The university’s faculty worried that accepting Chinese government money would compromise the university’s academic credibility.

That makes the University of Texas at Austin one of the few universities to turn down hosting a Confucius Institute.

It is part of a trend, however, of growing global awareness. In North America, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Manitoba have refused offers of Confucius Institutes.

Several others have declined to renew their five-year funding. Universities in Sweden, France, Germany, and Japan have likewise cut their ties with the Confucius Institutes.

Studies published in the United Kingdom and Sweden have raised alarm about the degree of ham-fisted political and academic interference exerted by the Confucius Institutes.

Furthermore, even though the number of Confucius Institutes have mushroomed since 2004, when the first one opened its doors in South Korea, the controversy attracted by the institutes has been detrimental to the propaganda harvest Beijing had hoped to reap.

Even with 400 Confucius Institutes in the United States, public opinion of China has worsened, rather than improved, over the past decade, according to the Pew Research Center.

In 2005, 35 percent of Americans held an unfavorable view of China. In 2016, that percentage had risen to 55 percent.

Ironically, the philosophy of Confucius, for whom the institutes are named, has been anathema to the Chinese Communist Party for decades, considered a feudal legacy to be left on the “ash heap of history.” That was until a use was found to hide Beijing’s propaganda efforts behind the name of the ancient Chinese philosopher, who died nearly 2,500 years ago.

Today, the name of Confucius masks a nefarious effort to influence academics and students around the world in China’s favor.

The Daily Signal

Written by The Daily Signal

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