American universities hosting Chinese-backed Confucius Institutes need to make public the details of their arrangements, including the amount of money they receive from the organization, according to regional experts.
Though Beijing bills the Confucius Institutes as a center to promote Chinese language education and cultural exchange around the world, there are mounting concerns in the United States that they threaten academic freedom, in part by limiting discussion on issues sensitive to the Chinese government.
"One of the features of the Confucius Institutes that's now aroused the greatest concern is that they in many cases involved secret covenants between funders and the host institutions, or universities, that were not made public," Aaron Friedberg, a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, told the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday.
More than 100 Confucius Institutes have opened at American universities in the past 13 years, but little is known about the nature of those agreements and the dollar-amounts invested in U.S. college campuses. Public universities have faced severe funding cuts over the past decade, making it attractive for cash-strapped institutes to outsource Chinese classes or programs to Confucius Institutes footing the bill.
Rep. Joe Wilson (R., S.C.) likened the project to a "propaganda operation."
[Related: University rejects Chinese Communist Party-linked influence efforts on campus ]