Portman Applauds State Department Decision to Demand Greater Reciprocity with China Following PSI Investigation

PSI Report Urged State Department to Take Additional Steps Toward Ensuring Reciprocity With China on Key Public Diplomacy Efforts

October 17, 2019 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, DCToday, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) applauded the State Department decision to require Chinese diplomats to notify the State Department before any meetings with U.S. colleges or universities or with any local or state officials.  Earlier this year, Portman and Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), unveiled a bipartisan report that detailed China’s one-sided treatment of key State Department diplomacy programs in China.  The report described more than 80 instances where the Chinese government directly interfered with U.S. diplomacy efforts in China to engage with Chinese audiences.  The report also included a key recommendation that the State Department demand “reciprocal and fair treatment of its diplomats and employees in China.”

“China’s persistent interference with U.S. public diplomacy efforts contradicts the important diplomatic principle of reciprocity that is recognized in international tradition and law,” said Senator Portman. “I’m pleased that the U.S. State Department is now working to level the playing field with China on U.S. public diplomacy efforts.  Our PSI report detailed instance after instance of the Chinese government interfering with U.S. visits, programs, and events throughout China. For too long the United States has modeled appropriate behavior in the hope that China will change.  As we have learned to our disappointment, China will not change unless it sees its actions have consequences and this news is a positive first step.”

Following are the key findings from the PSI report:

  • While China expanded Confucius Institutes in the U.S., it failed to provide appropriate reciprocity for U.S. officials and educators in China. The State Department documented at least 80 examples of Chinese inference with American public diplomacy efforts from January 2016 to July 2018. The State Department shut down an entire public diplomacy program to create partnerships between U.S. and Chinese schools in China because of Chinese government interference.
  • Since 2006, the Chinese government has provided more than $158 million to more than 100 U.S. schools for Confucius Institutes.  


  • The Chinese government controls nearly every aspect of Confucius Institutes at U.S. schools, including its funding, staff, and all programming. It even has veto authority over events and speakers.


  • The Chinese government also funds teachers for Confucius Classrooms in the United States, which teach Chinese language and culture in kindergarten through 12th grade schools. There are over 1,000 Confucius Classrooms worldwide and more than 500 in the United States. Expanding the Confucius Classroom program is a priority for the Chinese government.


  • There is little transparency in the selection of Chinese directors and teachers that staff Confucius Institutes. They are vetted and hired by the Chinese government, and U.S. universities choose from a pool of applicants approved by the Chinese government.


  • Chinese directors and teachers at Confucius Institutes pledge to protect Chinese national interests. Chinese teachers should “conscientiously safeguard national interests” and their contract terminates if they “violate Chinese law” or “engage in activities detrimental to national interests.”


  • Some U.S. schools’ contracts with the Chinese government include non-disclosure provisions and require adherence to both U.S. and Chinese law.


  • The State Department does not collect visa information related to Confucius Institutes. As a result, the State Department does not know how many Confucius Institute teachers are here or which U.S. schools host them.


  • U.S. schools failed to comply with statutory requirements to report foreign gifts to the Department of Education. Nearly 70 percent of U.S. schools with a Confucius Institute that received more than $250,000 in one year for Confucius Institutes failed to properly report that information to the Department of Education.


Following were the key recommendations in the report:

  • The State Department should demand reciprocal and fair treatment of its diplomats and employees in China. This should include routine access to all U.S. taxpayer funded sites, projects, and events. The State Department should also complete its own internal review of the effectiveness of the American Cultural Center program.
  • Congress should require all U.S. schools to publish all contracts with foreign governments, including all Confucius Institute contracts, online for students and faculty to review. Those contracts should have clear and irrefutable provisions protecting academic freedom at the school.
  • U.S. schools should ensure that the Chinese government does not exercise line item veto authority when approving annual Confucius Institute budgets. U.S. schools must ensure that any foreign government funded activities or research do not hinder academic freedom or present one-sided, selective positions to American students.
  • U.S. schools should ensure that the Chinese government’s vetting, screening, and interview processes are aligned with their own teacher hiring procedures and protocols. The process of selecting directors and teachers should be fully transparent to U.S. schools. U.S. schools should also attempt to recruit Chinese language instructors outside of the Chinese government’s purview.
  • The State Department should review all active Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms for compliance with visa regulations, standards, and practices. The State Department should collect foreign visa information for J-1 researchers or teachers associated with Confucius Institutes in the United States.