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US: Confucius Institutes rebranding

In the last four years, Confucius Institutes (CIs) have rapidly closed down across the United States. Amid pressure from the FBI, the Department of State, Congress and state legislatures, colleges and universities have terminated their agreements  with these  language and culture centres sponsored by the Chinese government. Of the 118 CIs that once existed in the country, 104 have closed already or are in the process of doing so.

According to the recently published report, the demise of the CIs, one of China’s most strategic beachheads in American higher education, has not deterred the Chinese government from seeking alternative means of influencing American colleges and universities. It has used an all-of-the-above approach to protecting its spheres of influence on American higher education, ranging from full-throated defences of  CIs to threats. Among its most successful tactics, however, has been the effort to rebrand Confucius Institute-like programs under other names.

Many once-defunct CIs have since reappeared in other forms. The report outlines the following scenarios:

  • 28 institutions have replaced (and 12 have sought to replace) their closed CI with a similar programme;
  • 58 have maintained (and 5 may have maintained) close relationships with their former CI partner;
  • 5 have (and 3 may have) transferred their CI to a new host, thereby keeping the CI alive; and
  • The single most popular reason institutions give when they close a CI is to replace it with a new Chinese partnership programme.

According to the report, American institutions have entered new sister agreements with Chinese universities, established “new” centers closely modeled on defunct CIs and even continued to receive funding from the same Chinese government agencies that funded the CIs. Such subterfuge matches the rebranding of the Hanban, the Chinese government agency that launched Confucius Institutes. Hanban has renamed itself the Ministry of Education Center for Language Exchange and Cooperation (CLEC) and spun off a separate organisation, the Chinese International Education Foundation (CIEF), that now funds and oversees CIs and many of their replacements.

For more information on what happens when Confucius Institutes close, have a look at the full report here.