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The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) has decided to take on China and its Confucius Institutes. A resolution adopted by CAUT delegates last month in December calls on Canadian universities and colleges to cut ties with Confucius Institutes and any other language and culture institutes backed and funded by the People’s Republic of China.
Confucius Institutes are public Chinese language and culture institutions directly aligned with the government of the People’s Republic of China. Founded in 2004, there are currently more than 320 Confucius Institutes in 91 countries worldwide, offering Chinese language classes and promoting Chinese culture. Confucius Institutes are supervised by the Office of Chinese Language Culture International, also known as Hanban, which in turn is affiliated with the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China.
According to CAUT executive director James Turk, the establishment of Confucius Institutes on university and college campuses would undermine academic freedom and the integrity of universities “by allowing the (Office of) Chinese Language Culture International to have a voice in a number of academic matters, such as curriculum, texts, and topics of class discussion." Critics argue that Confucius Institutes would enhance political censorship and undermine freedom of expression at university campuses. Controversial topics such as territorial conflicts concerning Tibet, Xinjiang or Taiwan, the Chinese government’s handling of members of the Falun Gong cult and human rights issues would no longer be possible due to dependence on funding for Confucius Institutes by the Chinese government. Among others, an art exhibition on the oppression of Falun Gong members at Tel Aviv University was shut down in 2008 while in 2009 a visit of the Dalai Lama at North Carolina State University was cancelled – critics claim a direct link to influence exerted by members of the respective Confucius Institutes.
Chinese representatives are most likely not amused by the recent CAUT call for a ban of their culture and language institutes but have not stated any official statement on the issue.