TORONTO—The Canadian province of New Brunswick has decided to give the boot to China’s Confucius Institute, with the education minister saying the program’s aim is to put a “friendly” face on a regime responsible for more deaths than any other in history.
Education Minister Dominic Cardy said the program provides a “one-dimensional” view of China, influencing students so they only have a positive image, CBC reported.
“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. “And I don’t think in an education system that is supposed to be the vehicle that transmits our values to the next generation, that showing that we’re open to a government that behaves that way is appropriate.”
Cardy said five students who attended the Confucius Institute (CI) made complaints about the program, saying certain topics such as Taiwan were off-limits in the classrooms.
The province’s Department of Education officially began its partnership with CI in 2008. Cardy says he hopes the program will be gone by June.
Confucius Institutes are branded as cultural and educational programs and are pushed by Beijing for hosting at academic institutions abroad. In Canada, about 10 educational institutions currently host CIs.
Typically, the teachers and curricula for CIs are selected and paid for by the Chinese communist regime.
The institutes are said by intelligence agencies to be used by Beijing to exert influence overseas. In 2010, then-head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) Richard Fadden said CIs are under the control of Chinese embassies and consulates, and linked them with some of the regime’s efforts to influence Canada’s China policy.
Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former senior manager with CSIS, says many Western counter-intelligence agencies have identified CIs as “forms of spy agencies” used by the regime.
Other institutions in Canada and around the world in recent years have also closed their partnerships with CIs. In 2014, the Toronto District School Board decided to remove CIs from the city’s schools after an outcry by the community. A year before that, McMaster University closed its CI after China refused to remove clauses that violate human rights in its hiring practices for teachers who would end up working in Canada. A clause in CI’s hiring contract for teachers stipulates that they can’t practice Falun Dafa, a spiritual meditation practice severely persecuted by the Chinese regime.
The University of Sherbrooke in Quebec also decided to shut down its CI, and the University of British Columbia and University of Manitoba have rejected China’s offers to host an institute.
In the United States, the University of Minnesota became one of the latest educational institutions to announce the closure of its CI recently, citing shifting priorities as well as new federal policy as the reason, Minnesota Daily reported. Under the National Defense Authorization Act signed into law last year, the U.S. Department of Defense is prohibited from funding Chinese-language programs offered by CIs.
Several other U.S. universities have also moved to announce closures of their CIs over the past two years, including the Universities of North Florida, West Florida, South Florida, University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign, Texas A&M University, University of Iowa, University of Rhode Island, University of Michigan, and North Carolina State University. Previously, University of Chicago and Pennsylvania State University had also shut their CIs.
More European universities have also started to shut their CIs, with the University of Leiden in the Netherlands becoming the latest to end its partnership with the institutes, announcing the decision on Feb. 19.
In a report issued last year, the National Association of Scholars in the United States recommended that all universities shut their CIs, citing concerns about intellectual freedom, transparency, being prone to not give an objective view of China due to financial entanglements with China, and being used as a means to advance China’s soft power.
Other institutions in Canada that continue to host CIs are British Columbia Institute of Technology, Saint Mary’s University, Dawson College, Carleton University, University of Regina, University of Waterloo, Brock University, University of Saskatchewan, the Coquitlam School District, Seneca College, and Edmonton Public Schools. The latter renewed its contract with its CI in January.
Canada is currently in the midst of a diplomatic row with China, after Beijing detained two Canadians citizens and increased the prison sentence of another to a death sentence. This came after Canada arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition request.
Last week, a British political group warned that CIs threaten academic freedom and spread Chinese communist propaganda, with lawmaker Fiona Bruce asking for a review to assess whether the institutes “represent a threat to academic freedom, freedom of expression, other basic rights, and indeed national security.”
Last year, FBI Director Christopher Wray said that the bureau is keeping a watchful eye on CIs. “We do share concerns about Confucius Institutes. We’ve been watching that development for a while,” he said in a February 2018 U.S. Senate hearing.