August 19, 2020
BY EMAIL – OFMAssistants@state.gov
Clifton C. SeagrOves
Office of Foreign Missions
United States Department of State
Dear Director SeagrOves:
I am writing in reply to your August 13, 2020, letter to the Confucius Institute U.S. Center, Inc. (“CIUS”) designating CIUS as a “foreign mission” for purposes of the Foreign Missions Act, Title 22 U.S.C. §4301, et seq.
Although we respectfully disagree with that designation, we also view it as an opportunity to open an avenue of communication between CIUS and the Department of State which is something we have long sought. As this letter will demonstrate, CIUS is not an organization that manages, supports or funds Confucius Institute programs (CIs) in the United States. We play no role in the selection of individual CIs on college campuses, we do not coordinate the funding of CIs, we do not plan the curriculum of any CI, we do not disburse personnel to CIs or keep an active register of teachers there, and we do not create or collect any teaching materials.
Instead, all these activities are performed by the universities themselves through their individual CI programs and the education agency in China. CIUS has no legal relationship with CI programs or the universities that run them, and no oversight role with them. Each CI program is designed, run, and managed by the university, and each university is responsible for overseeing the content and performance of the CI program on its campus.
Our work is not the same as other Washington DC-based non-profit associations that have programs across the country. Oftentimes those national offices are the “headquarters” of the non-profit’s mission and exercise a central governing authority. This is not the case with CIUS. As our website and tax returns reveal, our job is to boost the concept of teaching Chinese language and culture in the United States, whether through CIs or other language programs. We do this through educational seminars supporting best practices for teaching and learning, and we sponsor a variety of programs in support of individual CI programs.
We agree that only through transparency can you and the general public truly understand what CIUS does, and does not, do. Therefore, we are being open in our response in the hope the State Department can correct its erroneous assumption about us. We are responding to the request in your August 13, 2020 letter to designate a point of contact and provide information about the one office space that we lease. We also want to provide you with the following information, materials, and references that show our true role within the United States, so that the State Department may reconsider its view that we are a foreign mission.
I. The CIUS Structure
CIUS was formed in 2012 as a District of Columbia 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. Since its inception, its offices have been located at Suite 400-410 1776 Massachusetts Avenue, NW in Washington, DC 20036,which is CIUS’s only interest in real property, and those offices are leased from 1776 MASS AVE RE, LLC.
CIUS was established largely in response to the explosive interest in learning the Chinese language in the United States and the initiatives of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama to increase the number of Americans who can speak Chinese to one million by 2020. CIUS became a means to help students and educators find educational, academic, cultural and arts courses, initiatives and programs concerning Chinese language, culture and arts―particularly those offered by the various CIs located throughout the United States as well as those offered by CIUS itself.
CIUS’s daily operations are managed by me, Gao, Qing, as Executive Director. I am pleased to serve as the point of contact with your office. There are six full or part-time employees who work in my office, all of whom are U.S. citizens. CIUS is predominantly funded by the Confucius Institute Headquarters (CIHQ), a Chinese public institution affiliated to China’s Ministry of Education dedicating itself to promoting the teaching of Chinese language, culture and arts throughout the world.
It is critical to note that our office has no contractual relationship with, nor any control over, any individual CIs at any of the colleges, universities, or other institutions where they operate. CIUS does not provide any financial support to either the individual CIs or any of their host institutions. Each university has its own agreement directly with CIHQ. A few universities have publicly published their agreements with CIHQ and such an agreement can help illustrate how a CI might be established and demonstrate that CIUS has no contractual engagement with the university for its CI program.
II. What CIUS Does
CIUS’s core activities are in furtherance of scholastic and academic pursuits or the fine arts. CIUS’s activities (with selected event flyers attached as Exhibit 1) can be categorized and summarized as follows:
- The education and professional development part of CIUS promotes Chinese language learning in the United States, primarily through fostering awareness of the CI programs and programs of other organizations, but also by providing its own language programs and professional development opportunities for Chinese language teachers. For example, CIUS has organized a Chinese Salon, book clubs, tea tasting events, etc., and invited Chinese language students to practice their language skills in a comfortable and engaging format. For more information on these programs, please see the CIUS annual reports (the “Annual Reports”) here: https://www.ciuscenter.org/about-cius-center/annual-reports/
- The arts and culture aspect of CIUS provides a platform for and encourages artistic education and exchange between Chinese and American culture and arts communities. CIUS serves as a bridge for joint U.S. and Chinese arts and cultural commissions or exchanges and promotes programs and partners with other educational institutions. It organizes exhibitions, performances, and discussions related to Chinese and American arts and culture. CIUS has acted as a host or cosponsor for cultural events throughout the D.C. area. In addition to programs and workshops, CIUS also houses a small gallery which displays a rotating calendar of exhibitions related to Chinese history and culture. For more information on these activities, please see the Annual Reports.
- The academics portion of CIUS fosters scholarly dialogue among experts and the academic community on relevant academic and educational topics concerning Chinese language, culture and education. This would include, for example, CIUS’s production of an educational television series, The US China Global Education Television Series (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL91CHmZ_dPC5gtTK-F4M6w6FhSmtZKap_), as well as various panels and seminars on international educational and academic exchanges. For more information on these activities, please see the Annual Reports.
- The public relations and outreach part of CIUS seeks to introduce the public to the achievements of CIUS and the availability of ongoing programs of the CIs run by the various colleges and universities, as well as other Chinese language, cultural and arts programs. The primary annual outreach event is the National Honors Gala hosted each year by CIUS to honor outstanding American students from CIs throughout the U.S. CIUS has organized two people-to-people China trip programs with American honorees travelling to China for one week and visiting Chinese host families, high schools, senior communities, as well as cultural sites in Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, and Changsha in 2018 and 2019 (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL91CHmZ_dPC759bUwj7b4laNEd_BS9SES, and https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL91CHmZ_dPC7JRmQSIEtU0U0v1Bnkg4WR)
- In addition to our own activities, CIUS has conducted several joint activities with individual CIs. For example, we had book exhibitions during academic conventions – specifically, the National Chinese Language Conference, and the American Council for Teaching Foreign Language expo. During those conventions, CIUS rented exhibition booths and asked local CIs to bring their own teaching materials and collateral materials for display. We also had cultural showcases such as Chinese New Year celebrations at Smithsonian museums when CIUS had a booth and brought local CIs to participate. Our biggest intangible support to CIs has been to highlight their American students’ success stories about learning Chinese language through various platforms and provide additional programs for those students to have more people-to-people intercultural experiences. All of those programs, however, have been done by CIUS with no involvement of any CI in the programming.
In further support of the above explanations, please see the attached Annual Reports (https://www.ciuscenter.org/about-cius-center/annual-reports/) and the information provided in the CIUS website (https://www.ciuscenter.org/about-cius-center/our-organization/).
III. What CIUS Does Not Do
CIUS does not provide financial support to or supervise any CIs located on U.S. college campuses, or place any conditions on what the CIs may or may not do. CIUS does not provide funding to any group in the United States on behalf of CIHQ or any other foreign entity. CIUS does not approve course materials or teaching methods. CIUS does not approve which instructors come to the United States or facilitate anyone’s immigration status, and CIUS does not provide any teachers or instructors to any CIs. We do not approve or censor the teaching decisions made at any university or even monitor the day-to-day operations of any individual CI. And CIs are not separate legal entities – they are just college teaching efforts – we have no contractual relationship with any CI for any purpose.
IV. Open Information
As for your additional requests for information that you asked to be submitted by October 31, 2020, we feel such information should not be provided based solely on your Foreign Mission designation. For the purpose of transparency, we are offering the foregoing information, as well as a general response today that CIUS has never and does not plan to disperse any funds, personnel or curriculum resources to existing or new CIs, and the State Department’s assumption that CIUS is a headquarters for American CIs is a false one. None of employees currently hired by CIUS are sent from PRC. But instead, there are six other dedicated young American citizens who devote themselves to providing intercultural educational opportunities to American people. We would be happy to further elaborate on those details later in order to rectify the existing misunderstanding.
We are obviously not the entity you thought we are. That is understandable because we have never had the opportunity to explain to you how our office works. Hopefully this new transparency will satisfy your concerns about whether we are a foreign mission, and that we do not finance, manage or control individual CIs across the United States. We recommend you contact the individual universities that establish and operate CI programs on campuses for a better understanding of how a CI is obtained, financed and managed.
We also recommend you consult the Government Accountability Office report (https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/696859.pdf) we cited for analysis of the important issue you raised about academic freedom and openness. Although this issue is outside our purview, it is something that should be fully understood.
Secretary of State Pompeo said the goal of the Office of Foreign Ministry’s actions was simple: to ensure that American educators and school administrators can make informed choices about whether these CCP-backed programs should be allowed to continue, and if so, in what fashion. We agree with the Department of State on the importance of transparency. But we do not think designating CIUS as a foreign mission will help further this goal. Instead we are ready to meet with you to answer any questions about CIUS and our view of how CI programs are actually run, so that we can continue our mission of supporting Chinese language education and people-to-people exchanges in the United States in a proper and transparent way.
Executive Director, Confucius Institute U.S. Center, Inc.