U.S. lawmakers want China's Confucius Institutes to register as foreign agents

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Three U.S. Republican lawmakers said on Wednesday they wanted China’s Confucius Institute cultural centers in the United States to register as foreign agents, and to require all U.S. universities to disclose major gifts from foreign sources.

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Run by the Chinese government, the Confucius Institutes offer language and cultural programs at more than 100 U.S. colleges and universities. They have been criticized as an attempt by Beijing to influence U.S. higher education.

Senators Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton, and Representative Joe Wilson introduced the “Foreign Influence Transparency Act,” which would require the institutes to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA.

The measure, which comes amid increasing concern from some U.S. officials about Chinese influence in U.S. education, also would require universities to disclose donations, contracts or in-kind gifts valued at $50,000 or more from any foreign source.

Many U.S. politicians have been pushing for the United States to take a harder line in its dealings with China, particularly President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans, but also many Democrats.

The Confucius Institute headquarters in Beijing did not respond to a request for comment.

But Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said they aimed to increase educational and cultural exchanges to help mutual understanding and boost friendship.

The real issue for those making “noise” about China was about how they viewed the world and China’s development, she told reporters.

“Hearing all this noise of late, sometimes makes me think of what Confucius said: ‘The gentleman is easy of mind, while the small man is always full of anxiety,’” Hua said.

“We hope these people can abandon these outmoded ideas and get their brains, along with their bodies, into the 21st century, and objectively and rationally view the trends of the time in global development and China’s development progress.”

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard and Christian Shepherd in BEIJING; Editing by David Gregorio and Clarence Fernandez