Blackburn Applauds Closure of Confucius Institute at University of Memphis

June 30, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) applauded the closure of the Confucius Institute at the University of Memphis following her efforts to increase transparency about the harm the Chinese government-run programs cause to academic freedom. 
“Those studying Chinese culture and language at American schools should be alarmed that the Chinese government has infiltrated their institutions. I am pleased to share that today is the last day a Confucius Institute will call the University of Memphis home. Additionally, Middle Tennessee State University, the last college in our state with a Confucius Institute, is taking steps to wind down programming,” said Senator Blackburn. “The Chinese government will no longer be allowed to influence American education the way Confucius Institutes have for the past sixteen years. Confucius Institutes as they currently operate limit academic freedom, and we will not bow to repressive Chinese propaganda systems.”  

Chinese officials have recently been documented pressuring faculty at U.S. universities that host Confucius Institutes to avoid making statements or holding events on politically sensitive topics. Chinese teachers at these institutes sign contracts with the Government of China pledging not to damage their national interests. Such limitations attempt to export China’s censorship of political debate and reduce academic freedom.

Senator Blackburn is leading a multi-part effort to dissuade American universities from allowing Confucius Institutes on their campuses and ensure that existing centers abide by standards of transparency and academic freedom.

  • The Concerns Over Nations Funding University Campus Institutes in the United States (CONFUCIUS) Act, legislation with Senator John Kennedy (R-La.), grants full managerial authority of Confucius Institutes to the universities that host them passed the Senate earlier this month. Congressman Chip Roy (R-Texas) is leading companion legislation in the House of Representatives. 
  • The Transparency for Confucius Institutes Act, which Senator Blackburn introduced in March, would require program participation agreements between Confucius Institutes and American institutions that house them to address the ways China exerts undue influence. 
  • Earlier this year, Senator Blackburn led a group of Senate colleagues in urging Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to exercise necessary oversight over Confucius Institutes.

In the Tennessean today, Senator Blackburn wrote about her SECURE CAMPUS Act, legislation with Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) that would prohibit Chinese nationals from receiving visas to the United States for graduate or post-graduate studies in STEM fields. 

Chinese officials — and, by default, the all-powerful Chinese Communist Party — have spent decades leveraging the trappings of capitalism to hide their own totalitarian ambitions.

This duplicity drips down into every interaction between Beijing and the United States — even into the halls of academia. Currently, over 350,000 Chinese students are studying and researching at U.S. colleges and universities. Additionally, since 2007, China’s People’s Liberation Army has sponsored more than 2,500 military scientists and engineers to study abroad; every one of those 2,500 scholars is a loyal member of the CCP. We also know that PLA-sponsored researchers have engaged in espionage and stolen intellectual property.

Investigations conducted as part of the Department of Justice’s China Initiative confirm that the CCP has used its sponsorship programs to exploit America’s generous academic atmosphere to steal developing technology. The FBI is currently investigating over 1,000 cases related to Chinese economic espionage; the National Institutes of Health, 180 cases. Every month, the DOJ announces new charges against Chinese scholars caught abusing their research positions and stealing intellectual property.

Read the rest of Senator Blackburn’s op-ed in the Tennessean.