Pompeo. Photo: Gabriel Kuchta/Getty Images

The Trump administration is designating the Chinese state-funded Confucius Institutes as "foreign missions," requiring them to provide administrative data on all personnel and property in the U.S. as if they were foreign embassies or consulates, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Thursday.

Why it matters: Critics of the Chinese culture and language program, which runs about 550 institutes around the world and 75 in the U.S., say it's a "soft power" tool used to spread Beijing's influence on college campuses.

  • A 2019 report by a Senate Intelligence subcommittee described the institutes as an "attempt to export China’s censorship of political debate and prevent discussion of potentially politically sensitive topics."

What to watch: Some college administrators have previously pushed back against criticism of Confucius Institutes, arguing that without Chinese government funding for language study, many smaller American campuses won’t be able to offer Chinese classes to students.

Context: The State Department’s action marks a continued expansion of the Foreign Missions Act with regard to China.

  • In recent months, the State Department has invoked the law to designate several Chinese state media outlets in the United States as foreign missions, which means they must disclose information about their operations to the State Department.

What they're saying: "Today, the Department of State designated the Confucius Institute U.S. Center as a foreign mission of the PRC, recognizing CIUS for what it is: an entity advancing Beijing’s global propaganda and malign influence campaign on U.S. campuses and K-12 classrooms," Pompeo said in a statement.

  • "The goal of these actions is 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."
  • "The United States wants to ensure that students on U.S. campuses have access to Chinese language and cultural offerings free from the manipulation of the Chinese Communist Party and its proxies."

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