Aug. 13 (UPI) -- In a move that is likely to further fray relations between Washington and Beijing and attract retaliatory measures, the Trump administration on Thursday designated the Confucius Institute U.S. Center as a foreign mission, accusing it of being apart of the Chinese Communist Party's propaganda machine.
The designation requires the center to regularly provide information to the State Department about its Chinese citizen staff, recruiting, funding and operations in the United States.
"This action will not close the CIUS, nor will it require U.S. colleges or universities to close individual Confucius Institutes," the State Department said in a statement. "Instead, designating the CIUS as a foreign mission will ensure much-needed transparency."
There are 75 Confucius Institutes operating in the United States, 65 of which are on U.S. university campuses, and around 500 kindergarten through Grade 12 classrooms linked to the center, which has attracted criticism and worry from the U.S. government, rights groups and universities over spreading Chinese Communist Party propaganda and restricting academic freedom on campus.
According to Human Rights Watch, at least 29 U.S. universities have closed Confucius Institutes in the past six years.
In a 2019 U.S. Senate report, the Confucius Institute was described as coming with strings attached that compromise its academic freedom.
The report states the Chinese government approves all teachers who sign contracts "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 said.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement Thursday described the center as "an entity advancing Beijing's global propaganda and malign influence campaign on U.S. campuses and K-12 classrooms."
"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' top diplomat said. "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."
The designation of the center follows the State Department designating nine Chinese state-run news organization in two batches in February and June as foreign missions of China, which retaliated by expelling some American journalists and demanding four U.S. news organizations to disclose information about their operations in China.
David Stilwell, assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the State Department, said the move is to create reciprocity and transparency after the United States turning a blind eye for too long to the activities of China within U.S. border.
"By designation the Confucius Institutes of the U.S., we ask them to tell us what they're doing here in the U.S.," he told reporters Thursday via teleconference. "We're not closing it, we're simply designating them as what they are, as foreign missions."
The designation will improve the State Department's understanding of how the Chinese government uses its classrooms to influence U.S. scholars, added Clifton Seagroves, acting director of the Office of Foreign Mission.
The move comes amid rapidly straining ties between the two countries as Washington has repeatedly condemned Beijing for its human rights record concerning Hong Kong and its Muslim minority Uyghur population in Xinjiang while rejecting its claims to South China Sea. China has inturned balked at the accusations, imposed retaliatory measures and warned the United States and other Western nations to not meddle in its internal affairs.