Arizona State University has closed the Confucius Institute, which was run by the Chinese government and in the last few months had received increased criticism from lawmakers and human-rights advocates who view the centers as Chinese government propaganda.
The Confucius Institute will not reopen its doors this year, an ASU official said in an emailed statement, becoming at least the 16th university to close its Institute in the last 18 months.
ASU's decision came after the Department of Defense (DOD) denied ASU’s request this summer to maintain the Institute while continuing to receive the department's funding.
"ASU will continue our efforts to build educational and cultural connections with the people of China," Katie Paquet, vice president of media relations and strategic communications at ASU, said in the email.
Last August, Congress signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which prohibits universities that host Confucius Institutes from receiving DOD funding for Chinese language study. Though many institutions, including ASU, applied to the Pentagon for waivers to the law, the department unanimously declined all university requests.
In order to retain funding for the university’s DOD-funded National Security Education Chinese Flagship program, which seeks to increase national security by teaching Chinese culture and languages, ASU opted to close the Confucius Institute.
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The university's CI was one of over 539 centers run by China’s Ministry of Education worldwide. The Institute is designed to offer classes that "promote Chinese language and culture in foreign countries," according to the CI headquarters website.
But the institutes have long been criticized for acting as outposts for the Chinese government surveillance. In 2014, the American Association of University Professors issued a statement urging colleges to close their CIs to ensure free speech and the U.S.'s unilateral academic control over its institutions.
As recently as May 2019, a report from Human Rights Watch accused the Confucius Institute of playing a major role in the Chinese government’s efforts to undermine academic freedom abroad. Chinese students reported that their families back in China received threats in response to what they'd said in U.S. classrooms, and some academics said their censored views on campus out of fear of being denied access to China or future funding.
ASU's Confucius Institute had been open since 2007. It closed unceremoniously ahead of the start of fall classes on Thursday, without announcement.