The State Department on Thursday designated the Confucius Institute U.S. Center (CIUS) as a Chinese foreign mission, the latest move in the Trump administration’s crackdown on Beijing’s influence in the U.S.
“For more than four decades, Beijing has enjoyed free and open access to U.S. society, while denying that same access to Americans and other foreigners in China,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “Furthermore, the PRC [People's Republic of China] has taken advantage of America’s openness to undertake large scale and well-funded propaganda efforts and influence operations in this country.”
The statement described the CIUS, which is funded by the Chinese government, as “an entity advancing Beijing’s global propaganda and malign influence campaign on U.S. campuses and K-12 classrooms” and one that is part of its communist party apparatus.
The State Department says the goal is to ensure American teachers and administrators can make choices about whether the programs should be allowed to continue and for students to be able to have access to Chinese resources “free from the manipulation of the Chinese Communist Party and its proxies.”
The Wall Street Journal reported that the move requires the center to declare its personnel and property, which will give U.S. officials insight into the operations. The institutes have been accused of spreading Beijing’s views on issues such as Tibet and the Tiananmen Square massacre.
In a statement, CIUS said the move by the State Department "shows a lack of familiarity with the work our office actually does."
"Our office, which is not connected to a college campus and is in no way involved in any Confucius Institute curriculum, employment, or funding, is being targeted symbolically," it said. "CIUS has no influence, let alone 'malign' influence, over how universities run and manage their own Confucius Institute language programs."
A spokesperson told Fox News that the organization had offered to work with the State Department, and that the department had said in its designation letter that the center "is not involved in diplomatic or consular activities" and that its employees are not considered government officials.
"As ironic as it sounds, our small team of American staff is still being defined as a 'foreign mission,' the spokesperson said. "We are not a headquarters for American Confucius Institutes, but a small office in Washington, D.C. devoted to global education services and intercultural opportunities for American communities. Clearly caught up in international saber rattling, this naked political opportunism is in serious need of a fact check."
The designation marks the latest move by the U.S. to push back against Chinese influence in the U.S. President Trump has signed an executive order banning the app TikTok next month because of fears the Chinese owner of the app may give data to the Chinese government.
Last month the U.S. ordered the Chinese consulate in Houston to close down, contending it was a hub of spy activity by the Chinese Communist Party.
The U.S. alleged that the consulate was a nest of Chinese spies who tried to steal data from facilities in Texas, including the Texas A&M medical system and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
Fox News' Marisa Schultz contributed to this report.