U.S. lawmakers look to Taiwan as way to replace Confucius Institutes

04/07/2021 07:58 PM
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CNA file photo
CNA file photo

Washington, April 6 (CNA) Twenty-one Republican members of Congress have called on the Department of Education to consider using a program with Taiwan to offer "censorship-free alternatives" to the China-backed Confucius Institutes on many U.S. college campuses.

Fox News reported Tuesday that Senator Marsha Blackburn and Representative Michelle Steel initiated the group's March 18 letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona asking that the U.S.-Taiwan Education Initiative, which was established last December, be expanded.

In the letter, the lawmakers said the Confucius Institutes, which promote the study of Mandarin language and Chinese culture on U.S. college campuses, are funded and overseen by an affiliate of China's Ministry of Education.

In response to growing evidence that Beijing was pressuring faculty at the centers to avoid topics seen as damaging to China's national interests, the State Department designated the program's Washington D.C. headquarters as a foreign mission last August, the lawmakers said.

While many U.S. colleges have taken steps to clamp down on or close their Confucius Institutes, the letter continues, "there remains a high student demand for studies relating to Mandarin language and Chinese culture and history," which Taiwan can help to fill.

"Learning Mandarin from Taiwanese teachers means learning Mandarin in an environment free from censorship or coercion," the lawmakers said, quoting American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director Brent Christensen.

In the letter, the members of Congress urged Cardona to consider expanding the U.S.-Taiwan Education Initiative or other related programs to provide "censorship-free alternatives" to Confucius Institutes for the study of Mandarin language and Chinese culture.

"Cross-cultural learning opportunities remain critical not only to the enrichment of the humanities, but also to our national security," the letter's co-signers, consisting of seven senators and 14 representatives, added.

According to the National Association of Scholars, a total of 50 Confucius Institutes were operating in the U.S. as of March 25, down from a peak of over 100.

The reduction stems in part from a 2018 U.S. law that forced schools to choose between keeping the institutes open or losing Department of Defense funding for their foreign language programs.

On Tuesday, Blackburn and six Republican co-sponsors also introduced legislation in the Senate, titled the Transparency for Confucius Institutes Act, which she said would set additional limits on how the centers can operate on college campuses.

The U.S.-Taiwan Education Initiative, meanwhile, aims to expand access to Mandarin and English language instruction while "safeguarding academic freedom," according to an AIT factsheet issued in December.

(By Stacy Hsu and Matthew Mazzetta)


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