Confucius Institutes
Vision Times Australia
17 November 2019

The following is a translation of an article published by Vision Times Australia (看中国). It discusses the presentations of several commentators on Confucius Institutes in Australia.

Western Scholars’ Forum: Why are Confucius Institutes unwelcome?

The Social & Political Sciences Program of the University of Technology Sydney and the Australian Values Alliance co-hosted a seminar on Confucius Institutes on 15 November. Professor Feng Chongyi presided over the seminar. Four distinguished guests were invited to participate and give remarks. Mobo Gao, the head of the Confucius Institute at the University of Adelaide, who had promised to attend, announced his withdrawal for unknown reasons. More than 100 people attended, including reporters from Australia’s mainstream media Fairfax and The Australian.

The Confucius Institute is an educational institution under the Ministry of Education of the Communist Party of China (CPC) which was established in 2004. It developed rapidly after its establishment, promoting Chinese language to the world. There are now more than 500 Confucius Institutes and 1,000 Confucius Classrooms around the world.

Confucius Institutes have been very controversial ever since they went abroad. Academics and local governments have expressed doubts about the motives of the CPC in promoting and funding them. Some Confucius Institutes in the US, Canada and Europe have been closed due to recent concerns about academic freedom. In the larger discussion on how Australia should deal with intrusion and interference by foreign countries, the existential value of Confucius Institutes has attracted the attention of Australian academics.

Professor John Fitzgerald, an expert on China issues from Swinburne University of Technology, said that society’s criticism of Confucius Institutes is not on language and culture, but because it is feared that Beijing is using the position and power of Confucius Institutes in overseas academic institutions to promote Beijing’s geopolitical strategy. Their actions go beyond Chinese culture and language education. “For example, Confucius Institutes around the world must promote the ‘Belt and Road Initiative.’ This has led to the CPC’s Belt and Road Initiative being promoted by all universities with Confucius Institutes, including the University of Adelaide, Darwin University, University of New South Wales, etc,” said Professor Fitzgerald.

Ms. Zhao Yan, a lecturer at the University of Southern Queensland, said that discussion of the Confucius Institutes cannot stop with the institutes themselves, but rather the purposes behind them. She said: “We are studying why the CPC spends so much money promoting Confucius Institutes. How can a CPC-sponsored organisation teach traditional Chinese culture when the CPC has eradicated it?”

Confucius Institutes are widely recognised as the means by which the CPC promotes its soft power. Ms. Sheng Xue, a Canadian author and journalist who was a distinguished guest, said that we must be clear about where the CPC’s hard power is.

“More than 1 million Uyghurs are being held in concentration camps. Thousands of Falun Gong practitioners have been persecuted and their organs harvested. Promoters of some democratic movements have been abducted (such as Wang Bingzhang, etc.), more than 130 Tibetans have self-immolated, etc. An unprecedented level of repression is occurring in China today.” Ms. Sheng asked the audience, “as expatriates, do we really want to understand China through such a Chinese government?”

The contract between the Confucius Institutes and the Australian educational institutions states that they must comply with Chinese law. Kevin Carrico, a professor at Macquarie University, thinks this provision is ridiculous because the Chinese government does not comply with its own laws. “We can see that the government has arrested a large number of human rights lawyers and prohibited discussion of topics related to Falun Gong and Taiwan in the classroom. So, when you cooperate with a Confucius Institute, it is the same as cooperating with this government,” Carrico said.

John Garnaut, Fairfax’s former Beijing-based correspondent and former adviser to the prime minister, said the Australian government has enacted laws against foreign powers interfering with Australia to counter any actions that could undermine Australia’s democratic values and principles.

“There is enough evidence to show that Confucius Institutes pose definite risks to Australian academia and values. Therefore, the NSW government has begun to re-examine the value of Confucius Classrooms,” Mr. Garnaut said.

A review of Confucius Institutes is in progress and is expected to be completed soon, according to a notice issued by the NSW Ministry of Education on November 14.

But Professor Feng Chongyi revealed reliable information from NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes that Confucius Classrooms will be suspended indefinitely. However, there are no signs of Confucius Classrooms being pulled out of the NSW Department of Education. A Vision Times reporter asked the Minister of Education about the indefinite suspension, but has not received a reply.

When a reporter at the seminar asked if Australian educational institutions would face an economic or political backlash if they cancelled their relationship with Confucius Institutes, Professor Fitzgerald replied, “There will be no impact on the number of overseas students. The problem may be that universities will lose funds for some research cooperation contracts.”


Translation by: Chris Lanzit, NAATI Certified Professional Translator (Chinese-English), NAATI Practitioner ID: CPN0BC84W

Date of Translation: 28 November 2018

Reviewed by Dr. Graeme Ford (NAATI No. 5046) and Chris Lanzit

Read More