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As Confucius Institutes in the US face greater scrutiny, we dive into the history and purpose of these soft-power institutions




This picture taken on December 12, 2014 shows a Confucius statue in the seaside resort in Beidaihe, Hebei province.
This picture taken on December 12, 2014 shows a Confucius statue in the seaside resort in Beidaihe, Hebei province.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

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UCLA has one. Stanford has one. In fact, there are about 100 of them in the U.S. -- Confucius Institutes, which are non-profit educational organizations funded by the Chinese government and meant to promote positive aspects of Chinese culture.

But as tensions between the U.S. and China escalate, these agencies have garnered greater scrutiny from U.S. officials who fear that they might be undermining academic independence, or even be a hotbed for espionage. Last year, FBI director Christopher Wray said that the FBI would investigate these institutions.  

Critics of Confucius Institutes argue that they allow Chinese government backed idology to influence American Academia and that the money they bring in can be used as leverage by the Chinese government. There’s no evidence that these Institutes harbor any illegal activity and they mostly offer language and culture classes - but they are undeniably tools of soft-power. So are they really dangerous? What’s their history and their role in the American campus?

With guest host ​Libby Denkmann

Guests:

Don Lee, reporter for the LA Times, where he covers the national and global economy out of Washington D.C.; he has been following this story; formerly the LA Times Shanghai Bureau Chief; he tweets @dleelatimes

Clayton Dube, director of the USC U.S.-China Institute