UA Confucius Institute closes
The Confucius Institute at the University Arizona closed on July 31. The institute was dedicated and established in May 2008.
CIUA was a joint partnership between the UA and Hanban, a public institution affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education and more commonly referred to as Confucius Institute Headquarters, to establish a center that would provide cultural resources, experiences, and administer the Chinese Proficiency Test to students of China and the Chinese Language.
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An excerpt from the CIUA Establishment Agreement document originally obtained by the Arizona Daily Star detailed Hanban’s commitment of funds, faculty and resources to CIUA.
“During the term of this Agreement, the Headquarters shall contribute to the operations and support of the CIUA by providing funding, personnel, materials and services, including visiting scholars and instructors, grant funds for CIUA operations, overhead and expenses, course materials and curriculum, and grant funds for other mutually agreeable programs.”
In a memo to UA faculty obtained by the Arizona Daily Star, Provost Liesl Folks cited “changes in federal law and policy,” as the reason for CIUA’s closure.
Pam Scott, the associate vice president for external communications for the Office of University Relations, alluded to the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 as the “change in federal law and policy” in an email to the Daily Wildcat.
Section 1091 of the act prohibits “funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or otherwise made available for the Department of Defense” from being “obligated or expended to support a Chinese language program at an institution of higher education that hosts a Confucius Institute.”
This section of the act was implemented alongside an eight-month long investigation by the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which produced a “bipartisan report that details the lack of transparency in how American colleges and universities manage Confucius Institutes.”
Some of the key findings of the report include “little transparency in the selection of Chinese directors and teachers that staff Confucius Institutes,” that several U.S. schools "failed to comply with statutory requirements to report foreign gifts to the Department of Education,” and “the Chinese government controls nearly every aspect of Confucius Institutes at U.S. schools,” such as funding, staff, programming and the power of veto authority over events and speakers.
Critics of the Confucius Institutes, as well as the State Department, have labeled Confucius Institutes as an exercise of China’s soft power.
A 2018 Politico article reported that the former Chinese minister of propaganda, Liu Yanshan, revealed that Confucius Institutes can be used to sway global opinion on matters relating to Chinese interests, such as Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang (the region where Chinese Uyghurs are being persecuted by the Chinese government).
“‘Coordinate the efforts of overseas and domestic propaganda, [and] further create a favorable international environment for us,’ Chinese minister of propaganda Liu Yunshan exhorted his compatriots in a 2010 People’s Daily article. ‘With regard to key issues that influence our sovereignty and safety, we should actively carry out international propaganda battles against issuers such as Tibet, Xinjiang, Taiwan, human rights and Falun Gong. … We should do well in establishing and operating overseas cultural centers and Confucius Institutes.’”
On Thursday, Aug. 12, the State Department announced that it will now require Hanban to register as foreign agents. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo labeled Confucius Institutes as "an entity advancing Beijing's global propaganda and malign influence campaign on U.S. campuses and K-12 classrooms."
According to Zhao Chen, director of CIUA and distinguished professor of public health, "UA had four slots and our partner university [Shaanxi Normal University] has three slots” on the CIUA Board of Directors. Brent White, Provost for Global Affairs, was the most recent chair of the board.
In addition to the classes, resources and experiences the Institute offered to university students, "CIUA helped establish 10 Confucius Classrooms in local school districts that provided instruction to more than 10,000 students in Chinese language and culture,” Chen said.
Confucius Classrooms, according to the Senate PSI report, grant K-12 schools in the U.S. funds and instructors to teach the Chinese language.
In the same aforementioned memo to UA faculty, Folks promised to help CI Headquarters find alternative institutions to partner with.
“We will work with the Confucius Institute Headquarters to identify other institutions or non-profits in Tucson or Southern Arizona that might be interested in hosting a Confucius Institute," Folks said in the memo. "In the meantime, we will ensure that the activities of the CIUA, including language classes at public schools, continue for the remainder of the year.”
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