Report calls for moratorium on new Confucius Institutes in UK

Conservative Party Human Rights Commission calls for investigation into whether Communist-supported centres are being used to intimidate students or restrict freedom of expression

February 18, 2019
Confucius statue

The UK government should launch an investigation into whether Confucius Institutes restrict academic freedom or are being used by China to monitor students and teachers in the UK, according to a report.

There should also be a suspension of further agreements between UK universities and Confucius Institutes until the investigation is completed, the report from the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission adds.

The institutes are promoted as centres for teaching Chinese language and culture. According to the report, however, they serve as an extension of the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda arm and to stifle its critics around the world.

The commission, which began its inquiry in April last year after the launch of a similar investigation by the US’ Federal Bureau of Investigation, said that it had found that “freedom of expression and academic freedom is limited, even suppressed, in Confucius Institutes”.

Controversy around the centres has prompted at least 27 universities worldwide to cut ties with Confucius Institutes, including Stockholm University, Copenhagen Business School, the University of Chicago and McMaster University.

Confucius programmes operate within UK universities including UCL, the University of Manchester and the University of Sheffield, but they are funded and staffed by an agency of China’s Ministry of Education.

The report says that “without exception” every submission to the commission pointed to serious concerns about the presence of Confucius Institutes in universities in the UK and showed widespread evidence of a ban on the topics of Tibet, Taiwan and the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Isabel Hilton, the editor of the China Dialogue website, told the commission that all mentions of a particular Chinese dissident were removed from her contribution to a book sponsored by a Confucius Institute. Rachelle Peterson, policy director of the US National Association of Scholars, said that the Chinese director of a Confucius Institute had told her that if a student asked about Tiananmen Square, she should “show [the student] a picture and point out the beautiful architecture”.

The report also says that legislation is required to ensure that foreign institutions are “not able to hold undue influence” on curricula in UK institutions and to guarantee more transparency about the agreements made.

Fiona Bruce MP, chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, said that although the group welcomes and encourages language teaching and cultural exchange, “we believe a review is necessary to assess whether Confucius Institutes represent a threat to academic freedom, freedom of expression, other basic rights and indeed national security.

“We also believe it is right to have an assessment to ensure that the curriculum taught in Confucius Institutes is balanced, independent, holistic and comprehensive, and measures to require transparency and accountability in any future agreements between British institutions and Confucius Institutes.”

The Conservative Party Human Rights Commission aims to advise and develop the party’s foreign policy.

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Reader's comments (2)

Yes, but how many Universities, especially those with operations in China, can afford to offend one of the biggest income sources they have? No matter party official's working as part of such institutes call in and discipline Chinese academics who fail to tread the party line, frequently using threats against their family back in China to gain compliance...
How about The British Council? How does it differ? The claims made in the article above are not supported with cogent and convincing empirical research. Anecdotal stories can be found about the British Council too. I have given lectures all over China in many of its leading universities and have never once had the content of any lecture subject to any sort of censorship. I find the West's continued misconception of China astounding. I think some of the members of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission need to travel more and better inform themselves. They need to get out of the 5 star hotels and live and work in China for a while so they can have a better understanding and a better sense of where China really is in 2019. These sorts of misinformed articles only fuel racism, xenophobia and bigotry. In the meantime, the British might consider its occupation of Northern Ireland and the Falkland Islands. On the issue of Human Rights, the United States represents about 4.4 percent of the world's population, but it has around 22 percent of the world's prisoners. It has an appalling criminal justice system and the raw figures (22 percent of the world prison population) show that human rights is a myth in that country. We need not mention Guantanamo Bay. The Conservative Party Human Rights Commission would do better to tackle American on its over-criminalization problem than try to politicize the Confucius Institutes.