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GOP senators decry loss of transparency around Chinese outposts that FBI director said serve as “platform to disseminate … Chinese Communist Party propaganda” in U.S.

President Joe Biden is being criticized this week for his recent decision to revoke a proposed Trump-era rule that would proposed Trump-era rule that would have required U.S.educational institutions to disclose their relationships with a controversial international network of Communist Chinese-linked language and cultural centers. 

The Biden administration late last month quietly scuttled a directive issued by the Trump White House in its waning days. The rule, if implemented, would have required schools with foreign exchange programs to “disclose [their] agreements with Confucius Institutes and classrooms.”

Confucius Institutes are associations formed at schools and universities worldwide; they are nominally meant to promote Chinese culture and language, though they have been cited for allegedly pushing Chinese Communist Party (CCP) doctrine at their various sites across the globe.

The international program is overseen in China ultimately by the communist government’s Ministry of Education via the government Office of Chinese Language Council International, or “Hanban.” The Chinese education minister, Chen Baosheng, has himself been a Communist Party member for several decades and has at times managed CCP propaganda during his rise to the country’s upper education administration. 

A 2019 bipartisan report from the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs determined that funding for the programs “comes with strings that can compromise academic freedom.”

“The Chinese government approves all teachers, events, and speakers,” the report said. “Some U.S. schools contractually agree that both Chinese and U.S. laws will apply. The Chinese teachers sign contracts with the Chinese government pledging they will not damage the national interests of China.”

“Such limitations attempt to export China’s censorship of political debate and prevent discussion of potentially politically sensitive topics,” the report added, noting that “some U.S. schools’ contracts with Hanban include non-disclosure provisions.”

Senators criticize decision to revoke disclosure rule

None of the nearly dozen Democrats serving on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations responded to queries regarding the Biden administration’s decision, including whether or not senators had concerns that the Confucius Institute’s programming might be influenced by the politics of the Chinese Communist Party. 

Multiple GOP senators, meanwhile, criticized Biden’s decision

Indiana Sen. Todd Young on Thursday wrote on Twitter that the Trump administration rule would have allowed U.S. authorities “to ensure proper scrutiny of the Chinese Communist Party’s influence in U.S. academia.”

“Why would the Biden Admin delete such a common sense requirement?” he asked. 

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Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, meanwhile, said in a press release that the rule revocation was “deeply disappointing and surprising considering the serious nature of China’s efforts to expand its influence operations inside the United States.”

Pointing to the 2019 report, Portman said in the release: “[T]here is a stunning lack of transparency about how Confucius Institutes operate inside the United States … Absent full transparency regarding how and where Confucius Institutes operate, Confucius Institutes should not operate in the United States and be allowed to influence American students.”

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio claimed on Twitter that the FBI “has warned about [China’s] Communist Party using [the Confucius Institute] to infiltrate American schools.” 

In a 2019 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified that as “part of China’s soft power strategy,” the Institutes “offer a platform to disseminate Chinese government or Chinese Communist Party propaganda, to encourage censorship, restrict academic freedom” in the U.S.

Rubio said through a spokesman that the Trump administration had taken “a positive step in mandating schools and universities disclose their partnerships with these agents of Chinese government influence.”

“That President Biden would undo this important action is deeply disturbing,” Rubio added. “By failing to hold China accountable for running these foreign influence operations, the Biden Administration is calling into question its stated commitment to maintain a policy that treats China as a strategic competitor and protects American interests and values from its malign influence.”

Tennessee Sen. Bill Haggerty was more blunt, writing on Twitter: “Confucius Institutes are nothing more than launching pads for the [Chinese Communist Party] to exert their predatory propaganda. The Biden Administration’s rollback here is dangerous!”

The National Association of Scholars estimates that there are 63 Confucius Institutes in the U.S. as of January of this year. 

The group also states that “most K-12 schools that partner with the Hanban have ‘Confucius Classrooms,’ of which there are about 500 in the United States.”

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Trump bashes Biden for rejoining WHO, Paris Climate Accord

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Former President Donald Trump slammed President Joe Biden Sunday for rejoining the World Health Organization and Paris Climate accord — and overpaying to do so.

“It is so sad,” Trump said about the US rejoining both organizations during remarks at the Conservative Political Action Conference — after he pulled out during his term in the White House.

“They really are puppets for China,” he said of the WHO as the crowd booed.

“They called and they wanted us to stay in,” Trump said. “I said, ‘How much are we paying?’ ‘Approximately $500 million.’ ‘How much is China paying — a much larger, in terms of population, country?’ ‘Sir, they’re paying $39 million.’”

“I say ‘Why are we paying $500 million and they’re paying $39?’” Trump said. “I can tell you why. Because the people that made the deal are stupid.”

Trump also chided Biden for rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, calling the pact “very unfair and costly” to the US — and “without negotiating a better deal.”

“They wanted us back so badly,” he said. “I’ll tell you they wanted us. I was getting called from all of the countries. ‘You must come back into the Paris Accord.’ I said, ‘Tell me why? Give me one good reason?”

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The former president went on to highlight the double standard for America and developing countries in the deal, blasting Biden for not negotiating fairer terms upon rejoining.

“First of all, China doesn’t click in for 10 years,” Trump said. “Russia goes by an old standard which was not a clean standard.”

“But we get hit right from the beginning where is costs us hundreds of thousands and millions of jobs, it was a disaster, but they go back in. I could have made an unbelievable deal but I didn’t want to do that, surrendering millions of jobs and trillions of dollars to all of these other countries, almost all of them that were in the deal.

Trump continued, “what good does it do when we’re clean but China’s not, and Russia’s not, and India’s not.”

“They have favorable treatment,” he added “We don’t have favorable treatment.”

“[Biden] could have made a great deal– if they were going to go back in that’s fine– but they could have made a great deal. Instead they say, ‘we’re back in.’”

(NYP)

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Joe Biden administration defends its decision not to sanction Saudi Crown Prince

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The Biden administration defended its decision not to sanction Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally for his role in the death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, as the White House confirmed no more actions against the kingdom are imminent.

“The United States has not historically sanctioned the leaders of countries where we have diplomatic relations or even some where we don’t have diplomatic relations,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Behind the scenes there are a range of diplomatic conversations.”

Despite President Joe Biden’s comment Friday in an interview with Univision that “we’re going to be announcing significant changes today and on Monday” — and a similar statement from at the White House on Saturday — the administration said it isn’t planning steps beyond the limited sanctions already announced against some Saudi officials.

“The recalibration of relations with Saudi Arabia began on January 20th and it’s ongoing,” the White House said in a statement. “The Administration took a wide range of new actions on Friday. The President is referring to the fact that on Monday, the State Department will provide more details and elaborate on those announcements, not new announcements.”

Psaki, in a separate interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said the administration has been “crystal clear at every level” about recalibrating the relationship with Saudi Arabia and about it’s plan to “turn the page from the last four years.”

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On Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced what he called a new “Khashoggi Ban” policy, barring U.S. visas for 76 Saudi individuals who the U.S. said had threatened dissidents abroad.

That action came after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified version of an intelligence report that the Trump administration had withheld from the public. “We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey, to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” the intelligence agencies found.

Democratic lawmakers ramped up their calls for Biden to do more to hold the Saudi crown prince personally responsible. Senator Mark Warner, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Fox that sanctions on Prince Mohammed should be considered “if we don’t see a change in behavior.”

The crown prince has said he accepts symbolic responsibility for the killing as the country’s de facto ruler. Saudi officials have said the murder was carried out by rogue agents who have since been prosecuted.

On Friday, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said the government “completely rejects the negative, false and unacceptable assessment in the report pertaining to the Kingdom’s leadership, and notes that the report contained inaccurate information and conclusions.
(Livemint)

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Biden brings back bipartisan meetings at the White House

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President Biden has brought back bipartisan meetings at the White House that diminished under his predecessor, trying to find common ground with Republicans even as they remain far apart on issues related to the next round of coronavirus relief.

Biden’s first meeting with lawmakers in the Oval Office was with Republican senators on the coronavirus proposal and he has since met with bipartisan members of Congress on infrastructure and, later, supply chain issues. Biden’s outreach to Republicans has also extended beyond Capitol Hill to governors and local leaders as his administration grapples with the coronavirus and recent winter storms in southern states.

The meetings are another example of a return to more traditional governing under Biden and he is expected to make them a regular occurrence.

White House spokesman Michael Gwin said that the president is “glad to welcome lawmakers from both parties to the White House to work towards finding common ground on the challenges we face, and he’ll continue to do so throughout his time in office.”

“Biden’s brand is bringing people together, so it’s always helpful for him to remind voters that he’s trying to unite,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. “For now, it helps him stay above the fray.”

While Biden is making an effort to reach across the aisle, the real test will be whether that engagement yields any results. Discussions with Republicans on COVID-19 relief have brought both sides no closer to a compromise. Democrats have pushed ahead to pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal using budget reconciliation, creating tensions with Republicans.

“There are clearly issues where there is bipartisan consensus, but it requires presidential leadership and political capital to prevent the far left or far right from stopping it,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist and former spokesman in George W. Bush’s White House.

Biden’s effort to work across the aisle is reflective of his campaign trail pledge to be a unifier and a “president for all Americans.”

“He’s said he wants Republicans at the table from the very beginning,” said one longtime Biden adviser. “You can’t campaign on that for a year and a half and then not do it.”

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The adviser said Biden’s aim has always been to tone down the rhetoric and “break the fever.”

“Making them the opposition and not the enemy, that’s part of the deal,” the adviser said. “Part of the goal is normalizing talking to them. That is also a message that he’s sending not just to Republicans, but to Democrats, as well.

“He’s not under the illusion that we’ll get 67 votes, but this is how policymaking works,” the adviser continued, adding that Biden is a “creature of the Senate.”

Biden has forecast plans to pass a recovery and infrastructure package and Democrats have also introduced an immigration proposal on Capitol Hill, presenting his next tests to work with Republicans. Biden would need Republicans to join Democrats in order to pass an immigration overhaul.

In addition to Biden’s contacts, the White House says officials remain in constant contact with Republican offices on Capitol Hill and in the states.

Biden’s first meeting with GOP senators on Feb. 1 was cordial, according to participants, but Biden has remained committed to his $1.9 trillion relief proposal, which Republicans view as too expensive.

Biden’s outreach continued as he met with a bipartisan group of senators on Feb. 11 about infrastructure and, this week, with 11 lawmakers, including six Republicans, about addressing vulnerabilities in supply chains. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas.), who met with Biden on a trip to storm-stricken Texas on Friday, described the meeting as “very positive.”

“The political process has its ups and downs, and I’m hoping that this is an opportunity for us to do something truly important in a bipartisan way,” said Cornyn. “So far, the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill is being passed strictly along party lines. I think that’s unfortunate.”
(Hill)

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