American schools that coordinate with the Chinese Ministry of Education should end their agreements because they are trying to teach a warped version of history that benefits the government, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., warned Monday.
Rubio asked several schools in his state to shutter the Confucius Institute, a cultural program he identified as one of China’s “foreign influence operations” against the United States. The program operates at an array of universities and secondary schools, despite warnings from academic associations and the U.S. intelligence community.
“There is mounting concern about the Chinese government’s increasingly aggressive attempts to use ‘Confucius Institutes’ and other means to influence foreign academic institutions and critical analysis of China’s past history and present policies,” Rubio wrote in letters to five Florida institutions. “These institutes are overseen by a branch of the Chinese Ministry of Education, and are instructed to only teach versions of Chinese history, culture or current events that are explicitly approved by the Chinese Government and Communist Party.”
Rubio addressed the letters to four colleges — Miami Dade College, the University of North Florida, the University of South Florida, the University of West Florida — and one high school in south Florida. Rubio’s warning built on recommendations from a pair of academic associations, as well as recent media reports of how the Chinese government regards the Confucius Institutes.
“The Confucius Institute is an appealing brand for expanding our culture abroad,” a top official in the Chinese Communist Party, said in a 2011 speech flagged by Politico. “It has made an important contribution toward improving our soft power. The ‘Confucius’ brand has a natural attractiveness. Using the excuse of teaching Chinese language, everything looks reasonable and logical.”
The Confucius Institutes are part of a long-term plan for China to develop into an international superpower through a strategy that U.S. intelligence officials regard as relying on convincing rivals it has no such ambitions.
“The key theme is simple: China is not a threat. America should help China to peacefully emerge as a global power,” the Hudson Institute’s Michael Pillsbury wrote in The Hundred-Year Marathon. “[The programs] whitewash China’s history, portraying China to foreigners as a pacifistic, happy nation that considers Confucius the sole guide understanding Chinese culture.”
That view has gained prominence in U.S. government circles. Pillsbury, who served as a China expert in a variety of government positions over a career that dates back to Richard Nixon’s presidency, wrote the book as a public version of a report that received the CIA’s Exceptional Performance Award in 2001.
“I remain deeply concerned by the proliferation of Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms in the United States,” Rubio emphasized in Monday’s letters. “Given China’s aggressive campaign to 'infiltrate' American classrooms, stifle free inquiry, and subvert free expression both at home and abroad, I respectfully urge you to consider terminating your Confucius Institute agreement.”