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Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, China's Impact on the U.S. Education System, February 28, 2019

A hearing to announce the release of a report detailing China’s impact on the U.S. education system. The report is the result of an eight-month investigation that focused on China’s Confucius Institutes.



February 28, 2019
The first Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations hearing of the 116th Congress will come to order [gavel].
Last night, Sen. Carper and I released a report detailing China’s surprising impact on the U.S. education system. The report is the result of an eight-month investigation that focused on China’s Confucius Institutes.
Based on our findings, we are here to talk about TRANSPARENCY and RECIPROCITY.
TRANSPARENCY in how American colleges and universities manage Confucius Institutes—which are controlled, funded, and mostly staffed by the Chinese government and aim to promote Chinese language and culture – and Chinese interests on U.S. campuses.
Lack of RECIPROCITY in how China does not permit U.S. State Department programming in China. Our report details how China—known for its one-sided dealings in trade and tariffs—uses similar tactics in its unfair treatment of U.S. schools and State Department efforts in China.
Let me be clear, I support cultural exchange with China and the international community more broadly. I am for engagement – but there must be reciprocity and appropriate engagement, without the Chinese government determining what is said and done on U.S. campuses. And the law must be followed – this is why transparency is so important.
U.S. officials have expressed concerns about China’s influence through its Confucius Institutes. Recently, the FBI’s Assistant Director for the Counterintelligence Division testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Confucius Institutes “are not strictly a cultural institute” and “that they’re ultimately beholden to the Chinese government.”
And the State Department has labeled Confucius Institutes, “China’s most prominent soft power platform.”
Higher education groups have also expressed concern: The American Council of Education, National Association of Scholars, and the American Association of University Professors have all recommended that U.S. schools fundamentally change how they manage Confucius Institutes—or consider shutting them down.
We know that Confucius Institutes exist as just one part of China’s broader, long-term strategy, but China has invested significantly in them—giving more than $158 million to U.S. schools since 2006. Over 12 years – not one year as I said yesterday.
And China has also opened more than 500 Confucius Classrooms at U.S. K−12 schools. Expanding the Confucius Classroom program is a priority. A document obtained by the Subcommittee details a plan to expand Confucius Classrooms by seeking the “top-down policy support from the state government, legislative and educational institutions, with a particular emphasis on access to the support from school district superintendents and principals.”
Over the last eight months, we interviewed U.S. school officials, teachers, and Confucius Institute instructors. We also reviewed tens of thousands of pages of contracts, emails, financial records, and other internal documents obtained from more than 100 U.S. schools with either active or closed Confucius Institutes.
Since our investigation started, more than 10 U.S. schools announced they would be discontinuing their Confucius Institutes.
We found that Chinese funding for Confucius Institutes comes with strings attached – strings that can compromise academic freedom:
• The Chinese government vets and approves all Chinese directors and teachers, events, research proposals, and speakers at U.S. Confucius Institutes.
• Chinese teachers at U.S. Confucius Institutes sign contracts with the Chinese government pledging they will follow Chinese law and “conscientiously safeguard China’s national interests.”
• Some schools contractually agree that both Chinese and U.S. laws will apply at the Confucius Institute on the U.S. school’s campus. Think about that for a second: American universities are agreeing to comply with Chinese law on their own campuses.
This application of Chinese law at U.S. schools results in exporting China’s censorship of political debate and prevent discussion of politically sensitive topics.
As such, numerous U.S. school officials told the Subcommittee that Confucius Institutes were not the place to discuss topics like the independence of Taiwan or the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Put simply, as one U.S. school administrator told us: “You know what you’re getting when something is funded by the Chinese government.”
Investigators from the Government Accountability Office also spoke with U.S. school officials, who acknowledged that hosting a Confucius Institute could limit events or activities critical of China—not just at the Confucius Institute, but also elsewhere on campus.
In response to the growing popularity of Confucius Institutes, the U.S. State Department initiated its own public diplomacy program in China. The Chinese government effectively shut it down.
Since 2010, the State Department has provided $5.1 million in grant funding for 29 “American Cultural Centers” or “ACCs” in China. Through the program, a U.S. school would partner with a Chinese school to set up a cultural center, which would enable Chinese students to better understand U.S. culture.
The Chinese government stifled the program from the start.
• Seven of the 29 ACCs never even opened.
• The ACCs that did open found they needed permission from their Chinese partner schools—sometimes including local Chinese Communist Party officials—to hold events.
• Eventually, State stopped funding the program altogether.
While the State Department is mostly known for its overseas diplomacy efforts, it also has oversight responsibilities here in the United States.
The State Department conducts Field Site Reviews to ensure that foreign nationals who come to the United States on Exchange Visitor Program visas are here for their stated reason.
While there are roughly 100 Confucius Institutes in the United States, the State Department has conducted Field Site Reviews at only TWO. And the State Department found serious problems at both schools:
• State revoked more than 30 visas for Chinese exchange visitors at Confucius Institutes who were only supposed to be working at the university that sponsored their visa, but were actually teaching in Confucius Classrooms at local K−12 schools.
• State discovered evidence of “fraudulent paperwork and coaching” that was a “deliberate attempt to deceive” investigators.
Moreover, State told us that it does not collect visa information specifically related to Confucius Institutes. So they do not know how many Confucius Institute teachers are here or where they are.
Our investigation also identified failures at the Department of Education that have contributed to a lack of transparency and oversight of schools that take money from foreign governments.
If a U.S. school receives more than $250,000 from a single foreign source in one year, it is required to report that data to the Department of Education, which in turn publishes it.
Our investigation found that nearly 70 percent of schools that should have reported receiving funds for a Confucius Institute from China did not.
When a school fails to report a foreign gift, the Department of Justice can force a school to comply, but only at the request of the Secretary of Education.” The Department of Education has never referred this type of case to them. Not once.
The Department of Education has not issued any guidance on foreign gift reporting to U.S. schools since October 2004—over 14 years ago—and the same year that China opened its first U.S. Confucius Institute. It’s time for new guidance.
Our investigation found that schools in the United States—from kindergarten to college—have provided a level of access to the Chinese government that the Chinese government refuses to provide to the United States.
This brings us back to our two key points: TRANSPARENCY and RECIPROCITY.
Absent full transparency regarding how Confucius Institutes operate and full reciprocity for U.S. cultural outreach efforts on Chinese campuses, Confucius Institutes should not continue in the United States.
With that, I turn to Senator Carper for his opening statement.

Opening Statement of Senator Tom Carper
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your attention to this issue and for the bipartisan work that went into this hearing and our report.
More than two years ago now, the Russian government launched an unprecedented attack on our country. Using disinformation and stolen emails, they took advantage of Americans’ growing use of social media in an attempt to stir up conflict and influence the 2016 election by boosting the Trump campaign while denigrating Hillary Clinton.
Today, reports are already emerging that disinformation campaigns, targeting a number of the Democrats seeking to run against President Trump, have begun.
Given what our country has been through in recent years and what we’re preparing to grapple with in 2020, it’s important that we be vigilant in combatting foreign efforts
to influence American public opinion regardless of where they originate.
Today, we’ll be examining the quiet effort by the Chinese government to improve its image in Americans’ minds through its Confucius Institutes.
China opened its first Confucius Institute outside of Asia in the United States in 2004 at the University of Maryland. It has since opened roughly 100 of its 500 institutes in our
In addition, half of the 1,000 Confucius Classrooms that it runs through its Confucius Institutes are in our primary and secondary schools. Activities at the individual Confucius Institutes our staff visited and examined varied a great deal.
At one school, the Chinese visitors at the Confucius Institute perform research and work as teaching assistants in forcredit Mandarin classes.
At other schools, the Chinese visitors taught more informal, non-credit classes to both college students and members of the community. These classes focused on everything from
Mandarin for business travelers to topics like Chinese cooking and art.
In a handful of schools, Confucius Institute staff focused almost exclusively on placing visiting language teachers in K through 12 schools in the area.
At all of the schools, Confucius Institute staff seemed to focus a significant amount of time on events like Chinese New Year parties.
As best we can determine, these institutes spread around our country do not appear to be overt efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to spread pro-China or anti-American
propaganda. There’s also no evidence we’ve uncovered that suggests that they’re a center for Chinese espionage efforts or any other illegal activity.
That said, we nonetheless need to be mindful of where the story told by these Confucius Institutes is coming from. FBI Director Wray and others have expressed concerns
about the presence of Confucius Institutes in our schools because they were conceived by and are funded by a Chinese government that has a much different worldview than ours.
The $158 million China has spent on Confucius Institutes in the United States comes from a government that routinely stifles free speech, debate, and dissent in its own country.
It’s a government that monitors and jails religious and ethnic minorities and has a violent history of oppression.
It’s also a government that routinely targets us through hacking and industrial espionage and threatens Taiwan and our other close allies in Asia militarily.
Participants at Confucius Institute-sponsored activities won’t get the full story on any of these issues. That’s because, under the contracts U.S. schools have signed with
the Chinese government, Chinese officials can veto programming they don’t like. And the staff sent from China to run the institutes are prohibited under their individual
contracts from doing anything “detrimental to national interests.”
Despite my concerns about Confucius Institutes and China’s goals for them, I welcome greater opportunities for Americans to learn more about China, visit the country, and
speak Mandarin. 
And I want Chinese citizens to visit here and learn more about us and our language and culture, as well.
Data reported by the Department of Education indicate that as many as 400 million people in China are attempting to learn English. And according to a 2018 Pew Research study,
more than 90 percent of European primary and secondary school students are learning a foreign language. At the same time, only 20 percent of American students are working to
learn another language.
We need to do better than that. At a time when the world is getting smaller, when our country is growing more diverse, and when so many American jobs are reliant on global
trade, it’s in our nation’s best interest for more Americans to learn foreign languages, especially Mandarin. To the extent that there’s unmet demand in our country for Chinese language education, we should be filling it rather than allowing the Chinese government to fill it. 
The report we’ve released recommends a number of steps that schools with Confucius Institutes can take to change their relationship with the Chinese government and assert
the supremacy of free speech, free debate, and academic freedom on their campuses.
We also make recommendations to the U.S. Departments of Education and State to ensure that Confucius Institutes are operating within the law, and we call on the Chinese to stop
blocking our efforts to engage in cultural outreach in their country.
As I stated earlier, it is crucial that we continue to be vigilant in combatting foreign efforts to influence public opinion in our country. But if we take any other lessons away from
today’s hearing, I hope it’s that, in order to preserve our economic competitiveness and protect our national security, we need to make certain that our students are learning about
other cultures and studying Mandarin and other key foreign languages.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Download the files below to read the witness testimonies.