Australia to launch investigation of Confucius Institutes at 13 universities

Contracts between schools and Chinese government raise concerns over Beijing's influence in academic institutions

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TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – A number of Australian universities are set to undergo a government probe into potentially illegal deals made with China’s Hanban, or the Office of Chinese Language Council International, which administers the global network of university Confucius Institutes.

A Sydney Morning Post article published July 25 reports that private contracts between eleven Australian universities and the Chinese government reveal that schools must submit to Beijing’s diktats regarding teaching and curriculums at the Confucius Institutes.

The eleven contracts mentioned in the report reveal more sweeping authority given to the Beijing-based Hanban in matters regarding academics than previous contracts signed by other universities. The news has prompted further concern about the direction and purpose of the Chinese-backed language institutions at Australian schools.

In light of the report, Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter has announced that the government will be launching an investigation into the Confucius Institutes and university relations with Hanban to determine if there have been any violations of recently passed laws regarding foreign interference, reports Channel News Asia.

The University of Queensland (UQ) is one school that will be targeted in the probe. The Sydney Morning Herald quotes a spokeswoman from the university as claiming that the school is trying to renegotiate a new contract that will give UQ full authority over programs and curriculum at the Confucius Institute.

The Confucius Institute at Queensland University was recently at the center of a student protest which saw pro-CCP students attack pro-Hong Kong and pro-Tibet demonstrators on campus.

Despite the claims that the Confucius Institutes promote an image of China that is apolitical, there have been an increasing number of concerns and complaints in Australia that the language centers are being utilized by the Communist government in Beijing as a means of disseminating propaganda on university campuses. They have also been accused of keeping universities on a party-approved agenda in regards to teaching, discussing, and printing material related to issues Beijing considers sensitive.

The Attorney-General told media that, over the past few months, there have been calls to investigate the Confucius Institutes and to force the centers to register as offices of foreign agents in Australia. Similar calls have also been made in the United States recently.

At least 13 universities will be targeted in the probe to determine if the Confucius Institutes have breached provisions of the Foreign Transparency Initiative (FITS), which was implemented in 2017. However, the four universities set to undergo the heaviest scrutiny look to be the University of Queensland, La Trobe University, Griffith University, and Charles Darwin University, according to Channel News Asia.