The Chinese Communist regime has gained a foothold in Austria through its Confucius Institute at the University of Vienna, according to media reports and leaked government documents recently obtained by The Epoch Times from a trusted source.
Confucius Institutes (CIs) promote Chinese language and cultural programs. CIs are operated under Hanban, an organization under China’s Ministry of Education, which promotes communist ideology and the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) agenda, including censoring topics the regime deems sensitive such as the persecution of Falun Gong adherents, Uyghurs, Tibetan Buddhists, and the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
The Confucius Institute at the University of Vienna offers courses to Austrian armed officers and its instructors teach at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, according to a May 14 report published by Austrian newspaper Die Presse.
The report revealed that “in exceptional cases, the teachers [of the Confucius Institute] also come to the rooms of the armed forces, for example, the Theresian Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt,” and that “documents from the Federal Army that are ‘not classified’ are also translated in the Confucius Institute.”
The report mentions the role of Richard Trappl, the Austrian head of the CI at the University of Vienna, in expanding the organization. “The embassy of the Beijing regime in Vienna openly recommends him as one of those Austrian experts who understand China the way it wants to be understood.”
The CI at the University of Vienna has set up Chinese language courses for Austria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Defence Academy, the Diplomatic Academy, and other government institutions, according to its official website.
The CI was established in 2006 as a joint venture between Beijing Foreign Studies University and the University of Vienna, and it is the first CI in Austria.
The website highlights the relationship between the CI at the University of Vienna and the United Nations, stating that “Vienna is one of the official locations of the United Nations and an international city. The Confucius Institute and related organizations jointly organize activities such as ‘United Nations Chinese Day,’ ‘United Nations Peace Day,’ and ‘World Peace Chorus Festival’ every year.”
In October 2019, the think tank Australian Strategic Policy Institute published an article titled, “Mind Your Tongue.” Professor John Fitzgerald wrote that “[t]he Chinese Government engages in a range of visible and acceptable influence operations. At the legitimate end of the spectrum, it targets people outside China through cultural agreements and exchanges.”
Fitzgerald pointed out that in Australia, the CCP “supplies schools with language learning and cultural studies textbooks, and co-funds Confucius Classrooms in state school systems and Confucius Institutes on university campuses. … No other country has managed to embed its own government’s particular reading of history, politics, and culture within other countries’ educational systems as effectively as the Government of China,” he wrote.
Hainan Province’s Close Ties With CI in Vienna
The Epoch Times obtained a series of classified documents from the Hainan provincial government that reveal the CI’s role in assisting the CCP’s infiltration in Austria and some of its neighboring countries, and how Richard Trappl acted as the middleman in arranging agreements between a local government in Hainan and the CI at the University of Vienna.
A 2016 internal document from the foreign affairs department of Danzhou city, Hainan Province, showed that the authorities reached “several understandings” with the CI at the University of Vienna during a visit to Danzhou by Trappl, the director of the institute.
As disclosed by the document, Trappl arrived in Danzhou on May 29, 2016, and the next day, he was welcomed at a banquet where he met with Zhang Geng, the mayor of Danzhou, and several other local senior government officials.
The document states that the first “consensus” reached between the Confucius Institute at the University of Vienna and the Danzhou Municipal Government was for Danzhou to provide the institute with “teaching materials, books, and research materials” on Dongpo Culture.
Dongpo Culture originated from Su Dongpo, also known as Su Shi, who was a famous poet, calligrapher, and statesman in the Northern Song Dynasty. He was exiled to Danzhou in 1097 and lived there for three years. Just like Confucius, his name is now used by the Chinese regime to infiltrate the West in the name of ancient Chinese culture.
In mainland China, education materials and books are important tools for the CCP to brainwash and indoctrinate the public with its socialist and communist ideologies.
Han Chunyong, an official from the Chinese Ministry of Education’s Bureau of Teaching Materials, published an article last October on China Education News, quoting the Minister of Education, Chen Baosheng, as saying that “the [Chinese Communist] Party’s overall leadership of teaching materials should be strengthened” and that “Xi Jinping’s Thought with Chinese socialist characteristics in the new era should be thoroughly promoted in the teaching materials.”
The document also reveals that Trappl tried to promote a sister-city relationship between Danzhou and one of the cities in the state of Burgenland in Austria, as the region is a tourist attraction known for its “wetlands, unique ways of winemaking” and “shares similarities” with the Chinese city.
Sister cities are an important tool in the CCP’s overseas united front work. In a speech on Sept. 23, 2020, then U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned his audience that “China was aggressively attempting to influence state and local governments, including through seemingly innocuous sister-city agreements” and that the CCP’s sister-city programs are part of its “overseas propaganda,” which is “not so friendly to American interests,” according to The Washington Post.
The foreign affairs office of Danzhou disclosed in another document titled, “Report on the Key Work Plan for 2018,” that one of the CCP’s tactics in its infiltration overseas is to use CIs to implement cultural united front work.
The United Front Work Department (UFWD) is an organization directly under the CCP’s Central Committee that implements Beijing’s orders to spread the Party’s propaganda and communist ideology around the world.
The document, published in Oct. 31, 2017, stated, “The [Danzhou] city’s cultural resources advantage is brought into play to deepen the cooperation and exchange between the city’s Dongpo Cultural Base and the Confucius Institute at the University of Vienna University,” thus “integrating the city’s culture into the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ and enhancing the city’s international ‘soft power.'”
A 2017 document from Hainan’s provincial foreign affairs office revealed that Li Xiansheng, deputy director of the Standing Committee of the Provincial People’s Congress, led a delegation to Austria, Serbia, and Greece from July 26 to August 4, 2017, to actively promote the Belt and Road Initiative to these countries. During the visit, Li met with the Chinese director of the Confucius Institute of the University of Vienna, Li Kaning, to discuss cooperation in the field of culture and arts.
In its “Self-check Report to Meet the State Council’s Major Inspection,” dated July 16, 2018, the Danzhou foreign affairs office revealed another role of the CI—to promote economic exchanges and attract overseas talents.
In the document, the foreign affairs office reported that “our office has actively coordinated with the University of Vienna in Austria and successfully facilitated the establishment of Danzhou Dongpo Cultural Base in the Confucius Institute at the university,” and that the purpose of the cultural base was to “attract outstanding Austrian talents and overseas students to Danzhou for innovation and entrepreneurship.”
The document also states that the “office is actively working with the University of Vienna to help collect and collate information of local high-level talents, overseas students and high-tech projects.”
The Confucius Institute at the University of Vienna did not respond to a request for comment.
Austria, Other Western Countries Respond to Threats Posed by CIs
The news triggered concerns for Austrian national security amid Western suspicions of Confucius institutes being used as a propaganda tool by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to promote its agenda.
“In line with the political positioning of the EU, Austria regards the People’s Republic of China not only as a partner and competitor, but also as a strategic rival who advocates an alternative governance model,” a spokesman of the Foreign Ministry of Austria told Die Presse.
In 2019, Belgium denied a residence permit to Xinning Song, director of the Confucius Institute in Brussels, over accusations of espionage by the Belgian State Security Service.
Sweden closed all of its CIs and classrooms as of April last year out of “growing Swedish concern regarding Chinese security, disregard for human rights violations, oppression of ethnic- and religious minority groups and the jailing of Gui Minhai, the Swedish bookseller and poet from Hong Kong,” according to a May 2020 report by ScandAsia.
Long Tengyun contributed to this report.