China's Confucius Institutes should register as foreign agents: US lawmakers

China had set them to project soft power, but had earlier acknowledged their failure.

China's Confucius Institutes should register as foreign agents: US lawmakers

In a major blow to China's soft power projection bids, a law has been introduced in the US Congress to make it necessary for Confucius Institutes to register as foreign agents in the US. Doing this would mean China would have to acknowledge that the institutes, portrayed by the Chinese government as Chinese language schools and cultural centres, are its propaganda arms.

The law was introduced in the US Congress by three Republican lawmakers - Senators Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton, and Representative Joe Wilson. Called the 'Foreign Influence Transparency Act' it would make it mandatory for Confucius Institutes to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) as an agents representing the interests of a foreign country in a 'political or quasi-political' capacity.

China had set up hundreds of Confucius Institutes from 2004 around the world to fill its long-standing desire to enjoy soft power, or benign cultural influence and trust. They have been set up as institutes under various universities across the world, with around a 100 of them in the US.

Confucius Institutes portray themselves as Chinese language schools and cultural exchange centres. The aim was to give China its much-desired soft power push. They were supposed to function on the lines of the German Goethe Institut, French Alliance Francaise and the Spanish Instituto Cervantes.

But, they have been accused of spying and spreading propaganda in multiple countries. They have also been accused of keeping tabs on Chinese students studying abroad in those universities.

Confucius Institutes maybe considered failures at achieving their soft power goals, as demonstrated by the fact that the Chinese government is pulling the veil off and publicly reorienting them to serve China's diplomatic goals. 

"China has developed plans to reform the Confucius Institute system to make the language and cultural teaching facility better serve Chinese diplomacy," an article in a Chinese government-run newspaper had said. The 'reform' of the Confucius Institute is required "to turn it into a significant force for the cultural and educational exchange between China and other countries," the newspaper added.

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