The Chinese Confucius Institutes program launched in 2004 on the lines of the British Council and Alliance Francaise is mired in controversies as it is working illegally in UK universities by contravening various well-established British rules and regulations, reported the Asian Institute for China and IOR Studies (AICIS), a non-profit think tank.
Muraleedharan Nair, writing in AICIS said that the primary aim of China setting up Confucius Institutes abroad is for pushing the Communist Party of China (CPC’s) interests and executing its bidding, rather than promoting Chinese culture and the Mandarin language, its ostensible objectives.
In a recently accessed study, titled “Are Confucius Institutes Legal?” by UK-China Transparency (UKCT), Nair analysed a range of primary source data on the recruitment processes and procedures of Chinese staff working in these institutes.
In the authors’ words, “the purpose of the Confucius Institute is to advance the interests of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in higher education, and society more broadly”.
The analysis also highlighted China’s interest, including “the teaching of Mandarin, promotion of scientific collaboration, political and business networking propaganda and activities intended to shape how China and the CPC are viewed and studied academically, and the extension of CPC influence on campus,” reported AICIS.
More seriously, it was discovered that these institutes actually enable transnational repression in the UK.
Other findings included, “the staff at these institutes are recruited in a highly discriminatory way that is illegal under UK law; staff are being recruited based on their ability to enforce ‘CPC discipline’ in the UK and are obliged to undermine free speech and to conduct harassment on command; universities are systematically enabling this in a way that breaches their legal obligations to staff and students; and the [British] Home Office is systematically enabling this by means of an unlawful dedicated visa route which makes the employment status of Confucius Institutes staff unclear.”
It was further revealed that the staff recruitment process adopted by partner Chinese entities/universities using a uniform method for placing in Confucius Institutes was highly discriminatory that is illegal under UK law, said Nair.
It added that “political, age-based, sexist, religious, and racist forms of discrimination” are embedded into the recruitment process. The applicants must declare: “details of their ‘political characteristics’ and ‘ethnicity’; a promise not to have a child whilst working abroad; have their current employer/manager evaluate their ‘political attitude’; and ‘be evaluated by a CCP Committee”.
The report highlighted that such conditions are illegal under UK law, AICIS reported.
Each of the 30 China’s Confucius Institutes in the UK is a partnership between the concerned UK university and a Chinese entity, mostly a Chinese university, and a Chinese government agency, the Centre for Language Education and Exchange (CLEC). Its staff members are generally from Britain with the Mandarin language teachers recruited from China. Each institute has two co-directors, one each from the UK and China.
A number of recent tweets by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and statements by other senior British officials have generated renewed interest in the subject globally.
“Confucius Institutes pose a threat to civil liberties in many universities in the United Kingdom and he [Rishi Sunak] would be looking into closing them”, said a senior British official.
“I would close all 30 of China’s Confucius Institutes in the UK – the highest number in the world,” said Sunak.