TORONTO—A Canadian couple who pulled their daughter from China’s controversial Confucius Institute program at her school in Fredericton, New Brunswick, say they were alarmed that their child was enrolled in the program without their knowledge.
Bronwen Bonney and Parker Coates said the program is “inherently propaganda” and aims to influence people’s views on China, according to CBC.
“Chinese citizens who are Muslim or Falun Gong are being incarcerated, and we’re welcoming this in to teach our children about Chinese culture. That just seems totally out of whack,” Coates said.
Branded as Chinese language and culture programs, Confucius Institutes (CI) have been cited by Western intelligence agencies as part of Beijing’s efforts to exert its soft power abroad. A number of universities and educational institutions in Canada, the United States, and other parts of the world have closed their CIs, due to the controversial nature of the programs that are run and funded by the Chinese communist regime.
The CI in New Brunswick was established in 2007 and operates in 28 schools in the province, with 5,441 students enrolled in the program as of 2016.
In February, the province’s new minister of education, Dominic Cardy, criticized the program for offering a “one-dimensional” view of China and said he plans to close the province’s CIs by June.
“Their job is to create a friendly, cheerful face for a government that is responsible for more deaths than nearly any other in the history of our species,” Cardy told CBC.
Contracts between hosting educational institutions and Hanban—the Chinese state-run agency that operates CIs—typically contain clauses that either party can cancel the contract by giving six-months notice. Bonney and Coates, who have seen a copy of the new contract between the New Brunswick Department of Education and Hanban after the expiry of the original agreement, told CBC that this clause has been removed.
New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs has said the province would respect the terms of the agreement, which runs until 2022. However, Cardy told CBC that his views “remain exactly as they were, and I look forward to them no longer being in our schools come June.”
More CI Closures
In the United States, more than 10 academic institutions have closed their CIs in the past year as the program comes under more government scrutiny.
Indiana University closed its CI in April, becoming the latest university to do so. This follows a trend of other universities in North America and other parts of the world ending their partnerships with the Beijing-run program.
In Canada, the Toronto School Board, McMaster University, and the University of Sherbrooke have ended their partnerships with CIs in recent years.
A report by the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released this year stated that CI funding “comes with strings that compromise academic freedom.”
The National Association of Scholars in the United States recommended in 2018 that all universities close their CIs, expressing concerns about intellectual freedom and transparency, as well as the institutes being used to advance China’s soft power.
In Australia, all CIs have been directly notified by the government about the country’s new anti-foreign influence laws. The legislation requires individuals or organizations working for foreign governments to register as foreign agents.