Governor Bill Lee’s newly-proposed legislation wants to prohibit Confucius Institutes in Tennessee – but what if the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rebrands and repackages it? A new report surfaced detailing the Confucius Institute’s quiet rebranding of their K-12 Confucius Classrooms under the name “Chinese Language Partner Network.” The change occurred around August or September of last year, according to archived screenshots of the affiliated Asia Society webpage. It coincided with previous President Donald Trump’s policy for Confucius Institute transparency – which President Joe Biden revoked quietly days after inauguration. As of this report, the webpage still lists the existing Confucius classrooms under the rebranded name.
Lee’s proposed legislation, the Transparency in Foreign Investment Act, only deals with Hanban – an abbreviation for the CCP Ministry of Education’s Office of Chinese Language Council International, also known as the Confucius Institute Headquarters. The act doesn’t address Hanban’s close affiliation and, arguably, biggest assistant in expanding their reach: the Asia Society, a New York-based nonprofit that works with both the CCP and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to expand Chinese language courses in American schools. Since establishing its Confucius Classroom Network in 2010, the Asia Society has worked with Hanban to expand Confucius Classrooms.
National Association of Scholars Director of Policy Rachelle Peterson explained to The Washington Free Beacon that some campuses that claim to have shut down their Confucius Institutes aren’t being entirely truthful. Instead, those campuses merely transfer the CCP institute materials and staff to a new “China Center.”
“Most [Confucius Institute] ‘closures’ result in the opening of a new China Center, which retains at least some of the Confucius Institute staff,” stated Peterson.
This isn’t the first rebranding effort that the Confucius Institutes have undergone due to controversy. Last summer, Hanban changed its name to the Ministry of Education Centre for Language Education and Cooperation. Widespread public criticism at the time led Middle Tennessee State University to dissolve their branch of the institute.
The first university to establish a Confucius Institute was the University of Maryland (UMD) in June of 2004. Although the Confucius Institute’s original webpage detailing the institute’s establishment at UMD is now gone, an archived version of the page confirms this.
Lee’s Transparency in Foreign Investment Act is a part of his 2021 legislative package. In a video, Lee explained that federal government rollbacks on regulations on Confucius Institute influences in American education inspired the legislation.
“My administration is taking a look at these programs and partnerships that have concerning ties to communist regimes right in our own backyard,” stated Lee. “[T]axpayers deserve to know who or what is involved in higher education and research in Tennessee.”
We need greater transparency in foreign influences on TN college campuses. Let's talk about Confucius Institutes. pic.twitter.com/hjo5F3Edlg
— Gov. Bill Lee (@GovBillLee) February 25, 2021
The act would still allow higher education to accept gifts and enter into contracts with foreign governments and agencies, provided that they don’t threaten the integrity of research, instruction, operations, intellectual property rights, confidential information, or the safety and security of the institution, its students, Tennessee, or the country.
It would also mandate total transparency of financial gifts from and contracts with a foreign government or agency totaling over $10,000 alone or collectively. The college or university would have to disclose the dollar value, all parties associated with the funds or contract, the date of receipt or contractual agreement, and a description of the gift or contract. All of this information would be submitted annually in a public disclosure report.
The Tennessee Star reached out to spokespersons with Lee’s office concerning the impact of Hanban’s rebranding on the proposed act. They didn’t respond with comment by press time.
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Corinne Murdock is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and the Star News Network. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Confucius Institute” by Kreeder13. CC BY-SA 4.0.