China’s Influence on US Schools

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“Chinese Communist Party officials…are cultivating relationships with county school board members and local politicians” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The Communist Party of China (CCP) funds Confucius Institutes, which are placed on US and other foreign campuses. All in exchange for grants and funding paid by the CCP to the local university. In recent years, however, the Confucius institutes have been under increasing scrutiny.

The FBI has been looking into crimes ranging from censorship, restrictions of academic freedom and free speech, to keeping tabs on Chinese and Taiwanese students, to spying, IP theft and espionage. Consequently, many US universities have decided to terminate their association with the institutes. Not unreasonable considering. Is there a proper evaluation of the damages done? That is the real issue.

CCP Message in K-12 Schools

The Chinese government also funds K-12 Chinese language education programs in US schools. These programs include cultural events, Chinese New Year celebrations, cooking classes, speakers, as well as dance and music performances. All of which serve to create an image of China as approachable, likable, and non-threatening. Currently, at the K-12 level, 519 of these programs are running in US schools.

Academic freedom is severely restricted in these programs, while propaganda is common. The Chinese government approves all books, materials, resources, teachers, events, and speakers. Additionally, discussions of sensitive topics, such as the Tiananmen Square massacre, Tibet, and Taiwan are prohibited. “Some U.S. schools contractually agree that both Chinese and U.S. laws will apply.” It seems strange that US schools have the authority to enter into a contract with a foreign government, agreeing that foreign law would apply within the US.

“The Chinese teachers sign contracts with the Chinese government pledging they will not damage the national interests of China.” It is at the discretion of the Communist Party of China to determine what actions constitute “damaging the national interest of China,” which gives the CCP complete control over lesson content. Additionally, as these programs are being carried out in the US. This raises the question, should the interests of China be the paramount concern? What about the interests of the US or of the students themselves?

The contracts also state “‘limit public disclosure of the contract; and terminate the contract if the US school takes actions that ‘severely harm the image or ‘reputation’ of the Confucius Institute.  Many of the schools which host these programs are public schools. Limited disclosure of contracts would be a violation of the rights of parents and citizens to know what agreements have been made on behalf of their children. Even in private schools, parents have the right to know what is stated in the contracts.

Educators and opponents have criticized these programs for “trying to shape students’ perceptions of China. Their staff go as far as presenting that Tibet and Taiwan are undisputed Chinese territories. This “free” education is part of a larger CCP propaganda and soft power campaign designed to dissuade Americans from believing that China is a major human right abuser and economic and security threat.

Exploiting the Coronavirus Lock-Down

The Communist Party of China has taken advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to increase its dissemination of propaganda in the US. A Chinese learning platform, Lingo Bus, a subsidiary of China-based VIPkid, donated its online learning platform to Utah schools so that children could continue their education during the lock down. Lingo Bus is known to censor content which is contrary to Beijing’s objectives and narratives. Lingo Bus dictates content and has been known to fire teachers who have committed violations. Things such as sharing a map of independent Taiwan or discussing the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

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Included in the content provided to the 1,500 students at 76 Utah schools were a speech by Xi Jinping, and a grand military parade, celebrating the national day of the Communist Party. After the parade and the speech, the students reported that they thought Xi Jinping was both “cool” and “kind.” Critics have pointed out that these schools are US public schools, funded by taxpayer dollars and should not be used for the indoctrination of American children by the Communist Party of China. Xi Jinping apparently sees it differently. The teachers asked the students to write letters to Xi Jinping. Xi responded, encouraging the children to become ambassadors of Sino-US friendship.   

Push Back Against Chinese Influence in Education

A spokesperson for the program said, “Behind the language is the culture. When we learn Chinese, we are also learning Chinese culture, morality and values.” This raises the question, should US children be learning Chinese Communist morality and values in public school? Even locally in private school? We must answer this before going on with business as usual.

The Athenai Institute is an organization formed by college students to have the Confucius Institutes ejected from US campuses. The organization’s website states their mission as “”Removing the influence of the Chinese Communist Party, one university at a time.” Rory O’Connor, president of the Athenai Institute, explained the importance of the group’s mission; “if students only receive censored information about China then we cannot make informed decisions about the Communist Party.”

Other critics of the Chinese language programs in US public schools point out that that there are significant differences between the Confucius Institutes, and language and culture programs sponsored by other governments. If you compare to The Alliance Francais for French, Goethe Institute for German, or British Council for English, for example. Aside from the fact that France, Germany and UK are US allies, these programs are largely taught at night or on weekends. They are voluntary, and they are generally not housed within US schools and universities.

China is no ally…It is our most dangerous and menacing rival.” China already influences our economy, our foreign policy, our defense strategy. Add to that the clothes we wear, the toys our children play with, as well as the movies we see. Perhaps school could be the one place in America, which is free of CCP influence?

The Same is Happening Around the World.

Concern is also rising in Australia over the CCP’s growing influence on Australian universities. This influence comes through funding deals, student activism and research collaborations. “Lucrative arrangement endangering academic impudence and placing Australian national security at risk.” ABC News Australia says that this should be a “wake-up call for the government…”

“it is not in our interest to be training scientists who could … who could go on to develop technology which could be used against our military and against our country.”

ABC News Australia

Similar defense concerns have been raised in the US, where President Trump announced that he will now be terminating visas for Chinese graduate students. Particularly in STEM subjects, and those who may have ties to the People’s Liberation Army. Indeed, both the Australian government and the US FBI are cracking down on foreign government funding in higher education, particularly funding from China. It would seem prudent for the authorities to expand their crackdown to foreign funding of K-12 education.

Antonio Graceffo
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