The first letter highlighted fears of students violating an extraterritorial clause in the Hong Kong National Security Law which applies the law to people who are citizens of other countries and located outside of the city.
“We urge you to take action to safeguard your educational environments”
In response, professors have offered to allow students to submit work anonymously or ‘opt out’ of China-related coursework.
Meanwhile, the second letter focused on Confucius Institutes and classrooms, dozens of which have been closed in recent years as concerns about Chinese influence in academia mount.
“Over the last decade, the authoritarian government of the People’s Republic of China has sent curriculum and PRC-trained teachers into hundreds of US K-12 schools through a program called Confucius Classrooms,” wrote Pompeo and Devos.
“Styled as a language and culture program, Confucius Classrooms are in reality an important element of the PRC’s global influence campaign, now reaching tens of thousands of US schoolchildren every day.”
“We encourage you and the staff at your schools to carefully examine any Confucius classroom activities… If you find that the PRC’s activities aim to improperly influence our youngest Americans, we urge you to take action to safeguard your educational environments.”
The letter also stated that the designation of the Confucius Institute US Center as a foreign mission would provide much-needed transparency about the centre’s relationship with individual Confucius Classrooms.
The CIUS told The PIE News that it had no relationship with individual CCs and reiterated that they were not – as sometimes stated – the head of CIs in the country.
They further emphasised that claims CIs need Chinese government approval for filling teaching positions are untrue, and that recruitment, firing and contracts are the responsibility of US partner schools, with each having their own procedures.
“Locally run Chinese language programs have been an easy target, and sadly, when those programs shut down it’s American students who lose out on those learning opportunities,” a CIUS spokesperson told The PIE
“CIUS does not speak for the Chinese government or local Chinese language programs. But as an office made up almost entirely of native-born Americans who love their country, it’s painful to see the bridge-building potential of language studies destroyed because of issues of international politics. ”
“It’s painful to see the bridge-building potential of language studies destroyed because of issues of international politics”
Other institutions for which there is hard evidence that they have actively tried to interfere in academic affairs, such as CSSAs and embassies, have so far been spared the anger directed at CIs.
Writing in the Nikkei Asian Review, Edward A McCord, professor emeritus at George Washington University, warned against “the line between concerns and actual evidence [becoming] increasingly blurred”.
“Opposition to Confucius Institutes initially began within American academic institutions,” he explained.
“Faculty at some universities expressed concern that cooperative arrangements with educational entities sponsored and funded by the Chinese government could create agents for Beijing’s propaganda or censorship or even establish centres of espionage.
“What began as questions that might have been appropriately addressed within the academic environment soon became transformed by sheer repetition into charges of fact, even though the evidential bases for assertions of ‘malign influence’ were few and far between.”
McCord suggests that the stance may be standing in for broader concerns about a lack of reciprocity in US-China relations, noting the Chinese government would not allow language centres funded by the US government to operate in Chinese universities.