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UK Confucius Institutes enable "transnational repression"

PM Sunak has not delivered on a promise to close the Chinese state-sponsored schools

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Chinese staff at the so-called Confucius Institutes across the United Kingdom are recruited to enforce Chinese Communist Party (CCP) discipline and values in the country, new research has found.

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The state-sponsored Confucius Institute program, named after the ancient Chinese philosopher, was established 20 years ago to promote Chinese language and culture overseas and support Chinese-language teaching. There are more than 530 institutes based at universities worldwide, 30 of them are in the U.K.

‘Are Confucius Institutes legal?’, a new report by the organization UK-China Transparency (UKCT), looked into the recruitment process for Chinese staff who would then be sent to work in Britain.

All Confucius Institutes are based in British universities in the form of partnerships between the local universities with Chinese counterparts, and the Centre for Language Cooperation and Exchange (CLEC), a central Chinese government agency.

UKCT studied documents and data from all British universities involved and found that “British universities are operating Confucius Institutes illegally and enabling transnational repression in the U.K.”

Most of the language teachers come from China, and the report said they “are being recruited based on their ability to enforce ‘CCP discipline’ in the U.K. and are obliged to undermine free speech and to conduct harassment on command.”

The Chinese government demands applicants for roles at Confucius Institutes fill in a special form, UKCT said, that requires applicants to provide details of their “political characteristics” and “ethnicity”; promise not to have a child whilst working abroad; have their current employer evaluate their “political attitude”; and be evaluated by a CCP Committee.

“These practices are illegal under U.K. law,” the report said.

The application form also demands that applicants must promise to abide by the laws of China while abroad, something the British host universities are not aware of.

“There is … a systematic risk of Confucius Institute staff involving themselves in transnational repression by subjecting vulnerable individuals in the U.K. to harassment or intimidation and undermining freedom of speech on campus,” the UKCT’s report said.

The data indicates that British universities are operating Confucius Institutes illegally andenabling transnational repression in the UK. The key findings are as follows:
  1. Staff at Confucius Institutes are recruited in a highly discriminatory way that is illegal under UK law.

  2. Staff are being recruited based on their ability to enforce ‘CCP discipline’ in the UK and are obliged to undermine free speech and to conduct harassment on command.

  3. Universities are systematically enabling this in a way that breaches their legal obligations to staff and students.

  4. The Home Office is systematically enabling this by means of an unlawful dedicated visa route which makes the employment status of Confucius Institute staff unclear.

According to the UKCT report, the UK Home Office "is systematically enabling this by way of an illegal dedicated visa route which makes the employment status of Confucius Institute staff unclear."

Confucius Institutes are educational organizations sponsored by the CCP who teach Chinese language, culture and history at primary, secondary and university all over the world. However, they also promote storytelling preferred by Beijing and subvert important academic principles such as institutional autonomy and academic freedom.

It is significant that the Confucius Institutes are funded by the CCP's Propaganda Department, formally affiliated to the CCP's United Front Work (UFWD) Department, while supervised by staff based in Chinese embassies and consulates.

The Confucius Institute program has long-standing and formal ties to the UFWD, as Liu Yandong, a former Chinese vice premier and Politburo member, was the head of UFWD when it launched the program in 2004. Ms. Liu as of 2018 was president of the Office of Chinese Language Council International, which is the parent organization of the Institutes Confucius, also known as “Hanban”, short for “National Chinese Language Office”. In 2014, according to the Hanban, there were at least 110 Institutes Confucius only in the United States and, according to Xinhua, at the end of 2017 there were more than 500 institutions in 142 countries.

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