In the U.S., Confucius Institutes operate on the campuses of close to 100 universities. Over the past few years, the intelligence community has been wary of these institutes, since they are mostly funded by the Chinese government and sneak in pro-communist content to a large number of their courses. Understanding the potential danger posed by the Confucius Institutes, several universities have decided to shut them down.
American shutdown of Confucius Institutes
In January, the University of Massachusetts, Boston, stated that it had severed ties with the Confucius Institute that had been operating on their campus for the past 12 years. The decision was made after a group of teachers and students wrote a letter to the interim chancellor last year raising concerns that the institute was attempting to influence academic discourse.
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“As a result of their presence on campus, whether through direct intervention or preemptive self-censorship, important political and human rights are being silenced,” the group had written in the letter (Commonwealth Magazine).
In November 2018, it was reported that North Carolina State University had decided to close down their Confucius Institute. A month later, the University of Michigan also declared that it won’t be renewing its contract with the organization. Last year, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned about Beijing using Confucius Institutes as a political tool in the U.S.
“We do share concerns about the Confucius institutes… We’ve been watching that development for a while. It’s just one of many tools that they take advantage of. We have seen some decrease recently in their own enthusiasm and commitment to that particular program, but it is something that we’re watching warily and in certain instances have developed appropriate investigative steps,” he said in a statement (Inside Higher Ed).
The institutes routinely inject pro-communist material in most of their study materials, trying to brainwash American students into believing that democracy and liberal values “do not work” and that communism will somehow bring equality to the country.
Discriminating against Falun Gong practitioners
Confucius Institutes have also become notorious for their opposition to Falun Gong practitioners. A documentary titled In the Name of Confucius exposes how the institutes discriminate against such people even in a liberal democracy like Canada.
The film follows the experiences of Sonia Zhang, a Falun Gong practitioner from China who sought asylum in Canada. A Confucius Institute in Canada rejected her application for the post of Mandarin teacher because of her spiritual inclination. The Chinese regime despises Falun Gong and has been persecuting its followers for almost two decades.
Ms. Zhang challenged the institute’s position through Canada’s human rights commission. She argued that the university where the institute was functioning, McMaster University, was legitimizing discrimination by allowing the institute to ban Falun Gong practitioners from taking up jobs. The University later asked the institute to remove such discriminatory clauses. When they refused, McMaster decided to shut down the Confucius Institute.
“You have to think about what strings are attached, what kind of costs are coming with the free Chinese education provided by Confucius Institutes. Do you really want to sacrifice your academic freedom, human rights, and fundamental values to this free education opportunity?” Doris Liu, the filmmaker of the documentary, said in a statement (SBS News).
This problem is also seen in Australia where Confucius Institutes make it mandatory that teachers who sign contracts with them must not participate in Falun Gong or take any position that would bring shame or criticism to the Chinese Communist Party. In 2017, the then Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull stated that the country needed to pass specific laws that would counter the threat of foreign influence (aimed at China) in Australian universities.