Republicans press Defense Department on plans for cutting ties with Confucius Institutes

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Dive Brief:

  • Republican lawmakers led by Indiana Rep. Jim Banks raised concerns to the Department of Defense about its ability to withdraw funding from colleges that host programs connected to China’s government, like Confucius Institutes.
  • In a Monday letter, Banks and 56 other House Republicans requested information from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin regarding federal law that bars higher education institutions from receiving defense funding if they host a Confucius Institute after October 1, 2023.
  • They also asked whether the Defense Department considers colleges hosting similar programs tied to China to be ineligible for funding.

Dive Insight:

Lawmakers often cite Confucius Institutes, cultural centers with funding and programming ties to the Chinese government, as examples of a foreign rival’s interference in U.S. affairs. A section of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act gave colleges until October 2023 to discontinue Confucius Institute programming or lose eligibility for defense funding. 

That law would still allow the Defense Department to send educational assistance for students to colleges that don’t sever ties. And it allows for the defense secretary to issue waivers after consulting with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 

The act pressured most U.S. colleges to close their Confucius Institutes, according to the letter.

“Confucius Institutes, however, are far from meeting their demise on our university campuses,” the letter said. “At least 28 universities have replaced the Confucius Institute with a similar program.”

Banks and his fellow lawmakers cited a National Association of Scholars report that said the most common reason colleges gave for closing a Confucius Institute is they replaced it with a new program in partnership with China.

They asked if the Defense Department would consider colleges eligible for funding if they hosted programs with ties to China’s government that serve the same purpose and function as a Confucius Institute. Lawmakers also expressed concern over the Defense Department’s preparations to meet the October 2023 funding cutoff deadline, especially regarding grants in the middle of a research cycle.

The letter lists several universities that it says hold Defense Department contracts lasting past October 2023 but still have programs similar to Confucius Institutes. They include the University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, North Carolina State University, the State University of New York System’s Stony Brook University and the University of Texas at San Antonio.

The Defense Department declined a request for comment, saying the agency will respond directly to the letter’s authors.

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