Freshman congressman Anthony Gonzalez on Tuesday joined a growing number of legislators who are questioning the wisdom of Chinese-government funded cultural and language exchange programs at American universities that critics decry as propaganda outfits.
The programs, called Confucius Institutes after the famous Chinese philosopher, are intended to promote cultural studies of China on U.S. campuses, but a report released last year by an investigative subcommittee chaired by Ohio GOP Sen. Rob Portman found the Chinese government controls “nearly every aspect” of their operations in U.S. schools, including veto authority over events and speakers.
Legislation that Gonzalez, a Rocky River Republican, on Tuesday introduced with Florida Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala, a Cleveland native who served as Health and Human Services Secretary during the Clinton administration, would give U.S. universities that host Confucius Institutes full control over what they teach, the activities they carry out, the research grants they give, and the individuals they employ. It would also bar applications of any foreign law on campuses that host the institutes, and would eliminate federal government funding for U.S. hosts of Confucius Institutes that don’t comply with the law.
Ohio universities with Confucius Institutes include Cleveland State University, University of Akron, Miami University of Ohio and University of Toledo, according to a 2017 National Association of Scholars report that criticized the institutes.
Shalala noted that the Chinese government suppresses freedom of speech, academic freedom and other democratic values.
“As an educator, I understand the importance of academic independence and integrity in our institutions of higher learning, but through Confucius Institutes, the Chinese government is often able to coerce schools to follow a pro-Chinese Communist Party approach,” said a statement from Shalala, who formerly served as president of University of Miami. “The CONFUCIUS Act will support important cultural exchange with China while strongly protecting the values of American public higher education that have made it the envy of the world.”
A statement from Gonzalez said China’s communist party “has used these institutes to promote a pro-China image while actively working to steal American research and innovation and coerce our colleges and universities. It is time we hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable for their actions and work to protect American institutions of higher learning.”
In May, former Cleveland Clinic researcher Qing Wang was charged with fraud for failing to disclose his ties to Chinese universities and its government when he applied for more than $3.6 million in National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants. Last week, an Ohio State University rheumatology professor and researcher was charged with grant fraud for not disclosing his commitments to China when he got $4.1 million in NIH grants, and for using his U.S. research to benefit China.
The Ohio State researcher, Song Guo Zheng, 57, was arrested after he arrived in Anchorage, Alaska, aboard a charter flight and as he prepared to board another charter flight to China. When he was arrested, he was carrying three large bags, one small suitcase and a briefcase containing two laptops, three cellular telephones, several USB drives, several silver bars, expired Chinese passports for his family, deeds for property in China and other items, the U.S. Justice Department said.
A bill authored by Gonzalez to fight academic espionage became law last year when it was included in the National Defense Authorization Act. His Securing American Science and Technology Act of 2019 requires the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to establish an interagency working group of science, intelligence, and security agencies to address the security needs of agencies and federal grant recipients.
The bill Gonzalez and Shalala introduced Tuesday passed the U.S. Senate last month by a unanimous vote.
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