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Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) has decided against prolonging its cooperation with the Confucius Institute, after several months of tension and following accusations of espionage. The university informed through a press release that the cooperation will not be extended as it is no longer consistent with VUB’s policies and objectives, such as meeting the principle of free research. The two institutions have been collaborating since 2004 and their current contract will expire in June 2020. This is one of over 500 similar institutes that the Chinese government has supported around the world, in the past 15 years.
VUB’s rector Caroline Pauwels said in a statement: “The VUB is a great advocate of academic collaboration across borders, also with institutions in countries where freedoms are under pressure, and this through research and student exchanges. In this way we build a real ‘universitas’: a place where ideas and knowledge can be exchanged freely, unburdened by regimes, ideology or borders. After all, as a free university, we invest in the talents of young people, not in regimes."
This move does not come as a complete surprise after the Belgian State Security Service refused to renew the working visa of Xinning Song, the director of the institute, thus preventing him to enter the country in October this year. Xinning Song has been living in Belgium for over a decade and has been accused of putting his network to work in the interests of Chinese intelligence services in Belgium. A number of other universities ended their collaborations with Confucius Institutes over similar accusations in Canada, Japan, France and Germany.
The VUB emphasised that there are currently well running collaborations and that the university will continue to search for new academic scientific collaborations and student exchanges with Chinese (educational) institutions in the future, provided that they meet the principle of free research.