Beijing has defended its Confucius Institute program after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he hopes the Chinese cultural centers on American university campuses would be shut down by the end of this year.

The Confucius Institute operates in the US based on voluntary applications from universities under the principles of mutual respect and benefit, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Friday. They contribute to promoting cultural exchanges and have been “widely welcomed by US universities and the American people,” spokesperson Zhao Lijian noted.

He accused some US politicians, including Pompeo specifically, of deliberately undermining cultural and educational exchanges “by discrediting Confucius Institutes and interfering with their normal operations” out of “ideological bias and political expediency.”

These politicians “need to abandon the Cold War zero-sum mentality” and “stop interfering with normal people-to-people and cultural exchanges,” Zhao said.

If the US refuses to do so, the Chinese side reserves further rights to react.

Speaking on the Fox Business Network in early September, Pompeo accused the Beijing-government funded institutes of working to recruit “spies and collaborators” at US colleges. “I’m hopeful we will get them all closed out before the end of this year,” he said.

The state secretary earlier described the center that manages the Confucius Institutes in the US as “an entity advancing Beijing’s global propaganda and malign influence,” requiring it to register as a foreign mission.

Dozens of US universities host the institutes through partnerships with an affiliate of China’s Ministry of Education, though the figure has fallen since 2019. The US State Department and Education Department have warned universities and state education officials that the program gives China’s ruling Communist Party a “foothold on US soil.”

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