March 17, 2021

After Years of Pressure from Moulton, Tufts Closes Confucius Institutes

BOSTON — Today, Tufts University announced it will close its Confucius Institute. The decision comes after years of pressure from Representative Seth Moulton (D-MA) dating back to 2018. 

“The Chinese Communist Party spends millions annually to fund Confucius Institutes. China’s government does this because it wants a foothold on American college campuses which it uses to bully students, stifle critical thinking, and influence public perception. This action does not happen in isolation. Through its Thousand Talents program, for example, China’s government is able to use money to influence research, buy off professors, and even steal intellectual property that Americans fund. Tufts University's overdue decision to disband its Confucius Institute is the right one, and I hope it represents a sign that academia is finally waking up to the threat the Chinese Communist Party poses to colleges and our country,” Moulton said.

In 2018, Moulton urged UMass and Tufts to cut ties with Confucius Institutes because of the Institutes’ direct affiliation with the Chinese Communist Party. 

In a 2018 letter to Tufts and UMass leadership, Moulton warned: “The Chinese government has been clear in its goal and purpose for creating and expanding Confucius Institutes throughout the country, namely to distort academic discourse on China, threaten and silence defenders of human rights, and create a climate intolerant of dissent or open discussion. Ample opportunities and avenues exist to learn about the rich, historic Chinese culture and language through other means instead of an undemocratic government’s effort to restrict free expression and open dialogue on American college campuses.” 

Shortly after receiving the letter, UMass decided to part ways with the Confucius Institute on its campus. Tufts, however, initially defended the Institutes in a statement to The Boston Globe.

In 2018, FBI Director Christopher Wray was asked by the Senate Intelligence Committee whether the FBI was concerned about the role of Confucius Institutes in spreading propaganda, attempts to stifle academic debate about China on US college campuses, and potential counterintelligence threats. 

Director Wray said, “We do share concerns about the Confucius Institutes. We've been watching that development for a while...It is something that we are watching warily and in certain instances have developed appropriate investigative steps.”

In 2019, the Pentagon announced it would no longer fund Chinese-language programs at universities that host Confucius Institutes. 

In 2019, Tufts conducted a prolonged review of the decision to renew the Confucius Institutes contract. It ultimately found that the presence of the Confucius Institute presents “reputational and ethical concerns.” Despite the findings, Tufts renewed the contract in 2019. Moulton called the decision, “troubling at best, deeply naive at worst.”

According to reporting by Inside Higher Ed, a growing number of colleges and universities have chosen to cut ties with Confucius Institutes because of the Institutes’ ties to the Chinese Communist Party. The number of colleges and universities hosting a location peaked at 100. According to the same report, the schools that choose to continue hosting Confucius Institutes tend to do so because of the funding that comes with them.

An investigation by the United State Senate found that the Chinese government provided $138 million to fund Confucius Institutes over a 10-year period. Despite the foreign funding, Confucius Institutes and their employees are not required to register as agents of a foreign government.

Tufts posted a blog post on its website this afternoon noting that it had broken ties with Confucius Institutes.

The FBI estimates the theft of American research and trade secrets by China costs America $225 to $600 billion per year. 

In 2020, Moulton outlined a plan to protect American colleges and universities from China’s influence and espionage in an op-ed in Time.