China's Confucius Institutes face decline in Australia, North America

Confucius Institute programs continue to close, attract scrutiny in US, Australia, and Canada

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(Pixabay photo)

(Pixabay photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Educational institutions across the United States and Australia appear to be reconsidering their relationship with the China-funded Confucius Institutes, with a recent spate of closures in both countries.

Last week, the southeastern Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) announced that it would be ending Confucius Institute language programs in 13 public schools in lieu of domestically funded courses, forcing the Chinese government sponsored teachers out of the classroom. Less than a week later, on Wednesday (Aug. 28), Canberra announced it has formed a task force to crack down on the influence of foreign governments in Australian universities, reports Associated Press.

In the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, the University of Pittsburgh announced the suspension of similar programs in which its Confucius Institute supplied local primary and secondary schools with Chinese language teachers. Meanwhile, in Canada, public language programs offered by the Confucius Institutes are also being axed in Canada’s New Brunswick, to be replaced by locally staffed and funded programs by 2022.

Confucius Institute Headquarters, or Hanban, is operated under China’s Ministry of Education. For years, the educational centers have been accused of serving the communist regime’s United Front as centers for pro-Beijing propaganda and offices for international espionage operations.

In the past year, there has been a marked increase in scrutiny and closures of Confucius Institutes and related programs. In recent months, warnings about the institutes from lawmakers and educators across the West have continued to increase, claiming that unchecked Chinese influence and investment pose a serious threat to academic institutions and society at large.

The most recent U.S. school to close down its Confucius Institute for good was Arizona State University (ASU), which shuttered the program last week before the start of fall classes. The Arizona Republic reports that the decision came after the Department of Defense (DoD) refused to offer an exemption for the school, meaning its language programs would not have been eligible to receive DoD funding while ASU maintained its relationship with the Confucius Institute.

According to the report, ASU is the 16th U.S. university to end its relationship with Hanban in the last 18 months. Under similar funding restrictions imposed by the DoD, San Francisco State University, the University of Oregon, and Western Kentucky University opted to end their relations with the Chinese government-funded institutes at the end of the 2019 spring semester.

While some U.S. universities have been persuaded with financial incentives to drop their Confucius Institutes, others, like the University of Montana, have acted of their own accord following warnings issued by U.S. lawmakers in early 2019. Over the summer, Senators Chuck Grassley and Josh Hawley called for universities in their states, Iowa and Missouri, respectively, and across the U.S. to take action regarding the institutes, identifying them as “threats to America.”

Meanwhile, in Australia, the central government announced in late July an investigation into Confucius Institutes at 13 major universities amid concerns that the Chinese Communist Party is being given control of curriculum planning for classes at Australian schools. The probe is presumably still ongoing.

In response to news that NSW, Australia’s most populous state, is removing the Hanban programs from its public schools, the neighboring state of South Australia is also considering ending its public school language programs offered by the Chinese government, reports ABC News.

Responding to the closure of school programs in NSW, the Hanban headquarters in Beijing called the situation “deeply regrettable.” China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang called NSW’s schools’ decision to terminate the programs “disrespectful and unfair,” reports Chinese media outlet ECNS.