As the number of Coronavirus cases continue to rise across the world, the level of trust that the international community places in Beijing continues to diminish proportionately. The latest case is that of Sweden, which has shut down the last existing Chinese State-run language and cultural Institutes in the Scandanavian country called the Confucius Institutes.
Beijing decides what to teach in these schools, meant to promote Chinese language and culture, and they are fully funded by Beijing. The books too are scripted by China, and Beijing thus completely leaves out important topics like Taiwan’s independence and persecution of Tibetans are completely left out.
Sweden has shut all of them citing security concerns, and earlier in January this year, the University of Maryland in the United States too cancelled a Confucius Institute affiliated to it, after allegations of Beijing trying to use the Insitute for influencing the academia.
Moreover, Beijing is accused of discriminatory practices in hiring teachers for the Confucius schools, and only those loyal to the Communist Party of China (CPC) are allowed to teach at these Beijing-funded schools.
Sweden had already shut down four Confucius Institutes last year, and that left only one such Beijing-backed school in the Southern Swedish town of Falkenberg. But this last existing Confucius school in Sweden has also been suspended since the past one week, bringing the Chinese-funded education programme in the country to a grinding halt.
Sweden is the first European country to close all the Confucius Institutes in the country, but the issue of China trying to extend its political influence into academia in other countries is not limited to Sweden alone.
Take for instance the United States, where Beijing’s ‘soft power’ show is very much on display over allegations of China’s murky gifts to premier American Universities- Harvard and Yale.
Recently, the US Education Department had also announced that it had launched an investigation into allegations of the Harvard and Yale Universities failing to report “hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign gifts and contracts” from China and other countries.
The Education Department had also disclosed that many of the gifts proceeded from countries “known to be hostile (read “China”) to the United States”.
It added that this includes nations that may be trying to project their “soft power” and steal sensitive and proprietary research and development data and other such intellectual property.
The issue is therefore not just that of irregularities and lack of transparency, but also that of Beijing trying to politically influence the American academia and even stealing the country’s intellectual property.
China’s attempts to steal intellectual property from the United States is in itself a huge security threat given how Beijing boasts of a massive “reverse technology” market that thrives on intellectual property theft.
And while Beijing itself is infamous for intellectual property theft, there have been cases of China attempting to influence top professors in other countries. In 2018, for example, there was a high-profile arrest of a chemistry professor at Harvard University, Charles Lieber, over failure to disclose his close ties with Beijing.
Confucius Institutes too have come under the scanner within the United States, and last year a report by an investigation arm of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee revealed that Hanban, which oversees these Chinese language and culture Institutes on campuses all over the world, had sent in US$15.4 million into the United States directly.
Such massive Institutes for the Chinese state-sponsored schools in the United States exposes how they might be an instrument of the CCP propaganda, which gets further corroborated by how Beijing insists that the faculty at these Institute’s toes China’s official line on sensitive issues like Tibet, Xinjiang, and Taiwan.
Now that China is trying to wage a major propaganda war after its pernicious COVID-19 cover-up, the Confucius Institutes could become the new hotbeds of Beijing-run propaganda for repudiating its role in aggravating the ongoing Pandemic.
Sweden has set an example by keeping these schools that are nothing more than an extended arm of CCP’s propaganda machinery at bay. Other countries must also consider shutting them down for the sake of preserving their academia’s independence and even more importantly guarding against the threat of IP theft from China.