A long-pending U.S. Senate bill that took aim to increase oversight of China-affiliated Confucius Institutes at U.S. universities was passed, gathering momentum for a Republican-led effort to monitor potential Chinese espionage on campuses.

The bill approved by unanimous consent would deny federal funding to educational institutions that don't comply with new oversight rules and regulations if they become law.

The bill designated S-590, or the "Campus Accountability and Safety Act," was introduced in the Senate in February 2015. It will next be sent to the House of Representatives for consideration. A similar bill called H.R.1310 is pending in the House.

"Confucius Institutes are under the control of the Chinese Communist Party in all but name," said Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), who introduced the bill. "This bill would give colleges and universities full control over their resident Confucius Institutes and restore freedom of thought on their campuses."

The Confucius Institute is part of a global program under Hanban, or the Center for Language Education and Cooperation. Hanban is under China's Ministry of Education. Senate Republicans have long assailed the centers as fronts for Chinese spying and propaganda.

Hanban describes the centers as a public educational partnership between colleges and universities in China, and colleges and universities in other countries. These partnerships are partly funded and arranged by Hanban.

More than 20 such centers were shut following the release of a Senate report on their operations. There are estimated to be fewer than 90 of the centers in the U.S. compared to a peak of 110 at the end of 2018.