U.S. plans registration requirement for China's Confucius Institutes: report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department may announce as soon as Thursday a requirement for Chinese government-funded cultural centers at U.S. universities to register as foreign missions, Bloomberg News reported, a development that would be signal further deterioration in ties with Beijing.

The move would amount to a conclusion that the so-named Confucius Institutes are “substantially owned or effectively controlled” by a foreign government and subject them to administrative requirements similar to those for embassies and consulates, the report said, citing sources familiar with the matter.

The State Department and other U.S. government agencies did not immediately respond to requests for comment. One Congressional source, who did not want to be identified, said he had heard such an announcement was coming.

Last year, the U.S. State and Education Departments promised stricter monitoring of the institutes, which have been criticized in Congress and elsewhere as de facto propaganda arms of China’s Communist government.

In June, the State Department announced it would start treating four major Chinese media outlets as foreign embassies, calling them mouthpieces for Beijing.

U.S.-China relations are at their lowest ebb in decades, with President Donald Trump taking a tough line on Beijing ahead of his Nov. 3 re-election bid.

The world’s top two economies are at loggerheads on issues ranging from handling of the coronavirus pandemic to China’s crackdown on freedoms in Hong Kong and what U.S. officials say is rampant espionage activity to steal U.S. business and military secrets.

According to the U.S. non-profit organization, the National Association of Scholars, there were 75 Confucius Institutes in the United States as of June, including 66 at colleges and universities.

The NAS charges that they compromise academic freedom, defy Western norms of transparency, and are inappropriate on campuses. China rejects criticism of the institutes, calling it politicized and baseless.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by David Gregorio