Mark O’Neill for ejinsight
Germany’s Education Ministry recently called on the country’s universities to end co-operation with the Confucius Institute (CI), the state-backed body that offers courses in Chinese language and culture.
“I do not want the Chinese government to influence our universities and our society,” said Anja Karliczek. “We have left too much room for the Confucius Institutes and done too little to build up independent competence in China in Germany.”
The warning is the latest setback in Europe for CI, Beijing’s most important instrument of soft power overseas. In April 2020, Sweden closed the last of its CI classrooms; Norway followed suit in March this year. In 2019, the director of the CI at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel was expelled from the country for espionage and the institute there closed.
In a question to the European Commission in December 2020, a Dutch member of the European Parliament, Filip De Man, asked: “does the Commission plan on calling Member States to close all CIs?”
Currently, there are about 190 CIs across the EU. As of April, there were less than 50 in the US, down from a peak of about 100.
The closures are the result of rising anti-Chinese sentiment among the European public and governments. They see the institutes not as academic bodies but propaganda instruments of the Communist Party, which limit what can be discussed by students and faculty.
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