US report finds doubts against Confucius Institutes largely unfounded


Carrie Feyerabend dances with Shuixiu, literally Water Sleeves, one of the most skillful stunts in Peking Opera, during a rehearsal at Binghamton University (BU) in Binghamton, New York State, the United States, on Nov. 15, 2018. Feyerabend is one of the U.S. and Chinese artists from the Confucius Institute of Chinese Opera (CICO) at Binghamton University (BU) who were featured in the incredible show of the "Amazing Chinese Opera" in mid-November as the closing event of the university's International Education Week, an annual initiative to celebrate and promote international education and exchange. (Photo: Xinhua)

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 (Xinhua) -- A US government report released Wednesday found that Confucius Institutes (CI) in US campuses largely played positive roles and assertions that they interfered with US academic freedom were unfounded.

The report, released by the Government Accountability Office, cited interviews of officials from universities that host CIs as saying in many cases CIs were perceived as a positive influence.

"Officials from over half of the case study schools that were part of our review stated that establishing a CI offered benefits that aligned with the school's strategic plans to forge international connections and to expand the global reach of the campus," the report said.

"Case study school officials also stated that CIs provide valuable resources and opportunities to increase knowledge of and exposure to China and Chinese culture within the school and in the broader community," according to the report.

The report found that despite assertions from critics that CIs would bring "undue Chinese influence" to U.S. campuses, school officials did not raise alarms that such instances took place.

"Officials from multiple case study schools noted that U.S. school faculty members make all decisions regarding conference themes, guest speakers, and topics for events at their institute," the report said, adding that "multiple school officials stated that Hanban has never rejected a proposal for an event at Confucius Institute based on the topic."

Hanban is a public institution affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education that also serves as CI headquarters.

In some cases, CIs had sponsored events that addressed topics that could be considered critical of China, the report found.

Some of the officials that were interviewed for the study defended CIs from criticisms, saying that the lack of understanding may have contributed to a negative opinion of CIs.

"Some case study school officials noted that they did not think concerns and criticisms about Confucius Institutes applied to their institute because each institute is unique to the school at which it operates," the report said. "Several of these school officials told us that they believed such criticisms were not backed by evidence or based on specific incidents, but instead were rooted in a lack of understanding about Confucius Institutes."

"Officials at one case study school stated they are not planning to take the recent public scrutiny into consideration," for the reason that they regard it as "another form of outside influence," according to the report.

The report nevertheless registered the concerns of some school officials that hosting a CI on campus would "limit events or activities critical of China," but did not offer any evidence that a CI had interfered with a school event on political basis.

While the report painted an overall positive image for CIs in the United States, it included some suggestions for CIs to improve its operation, including standardizing and further disclosing the terms of cooperation between CIs and U.S. universities.

The report said of the 100 or so U.S. universities that host CIs, 10 cases were studied.

CIs in the United States have come under scrutiny in recent years, with some voicing concerns that the organization was "interfering with U.S. academic freedom."

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying denied such allegations, calling on relevant sides to "abandon prejudice" against CIs.