SALT LAKE CITY — Two resolutions focusing on China and Chinese curriculum in Utah schools and universities are at a standstill in the Utah Senate.
A FOX 13 records request shows what some lawmakers believe to be the Communist Chinese Government using soft power to get involved and stop the resolutions from moving forward.
The resolutions might seem simple on the surface -- one essentially says that genocide is bad. The other already has the groundwork laid out to make it happen including the green light from the University of Utah, which would have to shut down its Confucius Institute under the resolution.
But sitting below is a complex issue tying together schools, the economy and US-China government relations.
"I don't think anyone is out there going, 'You know what's great? Ethnic cleansing,'" said Rep. Brady Brammer (R-Pleasant Grove).
Brammer sponsored HCR 4, titled a "Concurrent Resolution Condemning the Treatment of the Uighur Ethnic Community by the Chinese Government."
Rep. Candice Pierucci's (R-Salt Lake City) HJR 8 dovetails off that as a "Joint Resolution to Protect Utah's Institutions of Higher Education from Chinese Communist Party Influence." It calls for shutting down the Confucius Institutes at both the University of Utah and Southern Utah University.
"It's absolutely disgusting what's going on, and it's disturbing," Rep. Pierucci said, referring to the Uighur genocide. "And I think part of being a 'friend,' right, is calling someone out on their crap when it needs to happen."
The "friend" in this case is the People's Republic of China, run by the Chinese Communist Party.
"There's between one and three million people that are currently being held in what they're calling 're-education camps,'" Rep. Brammer said, explaining what he referred to as the ethnic cleansing in China. "And that has resulted in numerous human rights violations. And they are trying to, the People's Republic of China -- the PRC -- is attempting to stop the world from really talking about it."
That attempt includes right here in Utah, he explained, at schools and universities with programs that take in funding by the Chinese government. The Confucius Institute is an example of that, Rep. Brammer indicated.
Rep. Brammer said the programs aren't allowed to teach students about the current events in China, and the impact of those events.
"From a state policy perspective, it may not seem like a very big deal to weigh in on an international issue like this," he said. "But when you start to see that there is soft power being exerted within our country to stop free speech related to talking about this issue, then it gets to a point where you're saying, 'Well maybe we should be talking about it.'"
A government records request filed by FOX 13 shows the communications both Reps. Pierucci and Brammer received in regards to the two resolutions.
Emails show that Rep. Brammer received a text from a Utah teacher in a Chinese immersion program in the state, applauding his resolution.
The teacher did not specify their name or school, but said that the Chinese Communist Party funds the immersion program.
The message reads:
- "As a Chinese Immersion teacher I am not able to teach the issues you have proposed in the resolution because they are not in our Chinese curriculum. I keep to the curriculum since my job is on the line. All of the Chinese teachers are supposed to adhere to the same protocol. Last month, I received a reminder email from my Supervisor that we teachers are NOT to discuss any topics which are political in nature. I believe that your proposal again would be considered political. Therefore, I don't see any of us being able to address such issues since the CCP funds our Immersion program and the Chinese Hanban teachers are all Communist party members. The saddest part to me is that my former students are preparing for their AP tests and none of them know anything about Mao, Tiananmen Square, Tibet, Hong Kong, etc..."
The GRAMA request also shows communications slamming Rep. Brammer for the resolution condemning the treatment of the Uighur people.
One of the emails comes from a Weber State University professor originally from China, who described himself as a "senior leader" in Utah's Chinese community, and who has friends in the Utah Legislature.
He told Rep. Brammer that the resolution interferes with other countries' internal affairs, and that "Interfering with other countries’ internal affairs not only is a violation of international law and norms governing international relations, but also leads to international unrest and disputes."
"The legislation will unnecessarily damage Utah’s relationship with China," the professor wrote. He later told Rep. Brammer that "it would be in the best interest of Utah and yourself to abandon the above-mentioned legislation."
"That was interesting to get citizens in Utah, or people in Utah, that are reaching out on behalf of the Chinese government to try to stop this from happening," Rep. Brammer said in response to the emails.
"What kind of relationship do we have if we're not allowed to condemn a massive human rights violation -- specifically speaking about their treatment of the Uighur population?" Rep. Pierucci asked.
When FOX 13 asked Senate leadership about the stalled resolutions Monday, leadership seemed to be concerned about the governmental relationship between the US and China.
Senate President J. Stuart Adams (R-Layton) said they want to make sure there aren't "unintended consequences."
"We're still two of the biggest economic powers on the planet, the United States and China, and we have to find a way to co-exist," Sen. Adams said. "And how that co-existence happens, I think, is something that Utah needs to play a role in. But I think it needs to be measured, as far as what we do."
Sen. Adams said he reached out to the World Trade Center to get feedback.
Rep. Brammer and Rep. Pierucci are still hopeful their resolutions will move into a Senate committee so the issue can be discussed.
But if neither resolution passes, Rep. Pierucci said she'll bring the issue back next year in bill form.
She said she wants a relationship with China "with open eyes," and to engage with them "on our terms, not on their terms."
"We have to take our position seriously in that, and recognize the national security vulnerabilities we've set up for ourselves," she said, adding, "and also again, put those healthy boundaries in place that protect our students, academic freedom, and ultimately, Utahns and the safety of all in the country."