The Biden administration quietly tossed a proposed rule that would have required U.S. universities and K-12 schools with foreign exchange programs to disclose any financial ties or other connections to Chinese state-run Confucius Institutes.
The decision was met with swift backlash from Republicans, who, along with the FBI, State Department, and Education Department during the Trump administration, expressed concern about the potential for Chinese influence operations inside the United States with Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms. Democrats, so far, have yet to react to the change.
Former President Donald Trump's administration made the proposal, “Establishing Requirement for Student and Exchange Visitor Program Certified Schools to Disclose Agreements with Confucius Institutes and Classrooms,” on New Year's Eve. But before the rule made its way to the Federal Register or went into effect, the Biden administration withdrew it on Jan. 26, less than a week after Inauguration Day. “ICE can confirm that the rule was withdrawn on Jan 26. ICE does not speculate about future pre-decisional proposed rules or policies,” a spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told the Washington Examiner on Tuesday.
The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs website also shows its status as withdrawn.
The now-ditched rule was first reported on by Axios in January, noting that it would have applied to the Confucius Institutes as well as other groups such as Chinese Students and Scholars Associations “that are funded directly or indirectly by China.” The report said, “If schools fail to report the information, Student and Exchange Visitor Program certification would be denied” but added that the Biden administration would have a chance to undo the rule.
Republicans, including GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Marco Rubio, and House Foreign Affairs ranking member Michael McCaul, criticized the Biden administration going ahead with rejecting the proposal.
“By quietly backing away from the proposed rule without consulting Congress, the Biden administration is sending a concerning signal about its scrutiny of CCP influence in academia, and telling academic institutions that they don’t need to be transparent about their ties to China’s regime,” McCaul said. “It’s all the more disturbing because the education industry already fails to report billions of dollars of foreign gifts and contracts. I strongly urge the Biden Administration to stick to its promises to prioritize the CCP as our main national security challenge, including in the American education system.”
McCaul’s office pointed to his China Task Force report from September that found “through Confucius Institutes, monitoring of students, and direct interference by PRC diplomats, the CCP is trying to force its views upon our institutions of higher learning.” The Chinese Communist Party, the report added, “has used these institutes to promote an idyllic image while actively working to steal U.S. research and innovation and coerce colleges and universities.”
In August, the State Department designated the Confucius Institute U.S. Center in Washington, D.C., as a “foreign mission” of the Chinese Communist Party, with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying at the time “the United States wants to ensure that students on U.S. campuses have access to Chinese language and cultural offerings free from the manipulation of the Chinese Communist Party and its proxies.” U.S. officials also slapped the same “foreign missions” label on a host of Chinese state-run media outlets last year.
Pompeo and former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos joined forces in October to warn that K-12 classrooms and universities nationwide are being targeted by Chinese Communist Party influence operations. DeVos also released a report that month laying out how universities had failed to disclose $6.5 billion in funding and resources from foreign sources, including China.
The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, led by Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, released a 109-page bipartisan report in November 2019, concluding foreign countries “seek to exploit America’s openness to advance their own national interests” and “the most aggressive of them has been China.” It found China used its Thousand Talents Program to exploit access to U.S. research labs and academic institutions.
The subcommittee released an initial report in February 2019 warning about foreign funding and Chinese influence both in K-12 classrooms and university campuses nationwide, warning that “Confucius Institutes exist as one part of China’s broader, long-term strategy” and “the Chinese government controls nearly every aspect of Confucius Institutes at U.S. schools.” It also noted that “foreign government spending on U.S. schools is effectively a black hole.” Those reports spurred the Education Department into action.
This is not the first China-related controversy for the Biden administration.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Biden’s pick to be ambassador to the United Nations, admitted during Senate testimony in January that it was a “huge mistake” for her to deliver a paid speech on U.S.-China-Africa policy in 2019 before a Savannah State University branch of the Confucius Institute.
Republicans have also pushed back on Biden’s Commerce Department secretary nominee, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, after she declined to promise specifically to keep Chinese telecom giant Huawei on a U.S. trade blacklist.
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