A research expert says the controversial Confucius Institutes (CIs) located across Australia’s educational institutions should be shut down, citing the financial influence the Chinese Communist Party wields behind such classes and concerns of potential foreign influence.
Last month, the New South Wales Department of Education banned the program from being taught at the state’s public schools and the South Australian government is currently debating whether to cancel as well. Daniel Wild, the Director of Research at the Institute of Public Affairs, told The Epoch Times on Sept. 10 that the state of Victoria should take stronger action.
China has claimed that the aim of their CI’s are purely to strengthen Chinese language learning, with the program growing to over 1,600 universities and schools around the world. But it has been facing increasing scrutiny globally over risks ranging from violations of human rights, loss of academic integrity and freedom, to even potential infringements on national security.
“I think that it should be closed both at schools and universities,” Wild said. “That doesn’t mean that Chinese history and culture can’t be taught in Australia. But the concern is really where’s the money coming from and how is that influencing the content of their teaching?
“Is it based primarily on say what the Communist Party wants or is it based on a more of an accurate reflection of Chinese history?” he continued. “I think there is a concern when the Chinese Communist Party is behind the funding of it.”
In August, a Hong Kong protest in Melbourne’s City Centre turned violent and was cut short after pro-Beijing “thugs” sought to silence event speakers and attendees. Approximately 500 pro-Hong Kong supporters stood peacefully on the steps of Victoria’s State Library in a show of support for a “Stand with Hong Kong-Power to the People” rally organized by the Victoria Hong Kong Tertiary Student Association.
Wild said universities in Australia rely strongly on international students for financial benefit. The Group of Eight (Go8), a coalition of eight world-leading research-intensive Australian universities, have 30 to 35 percent international students, with roughly half that amount coming from China, Wild said.
“It’s in the interest of the government and also the universities to get more international students because there are no taxpayer costs and the university does get higher fees,” he said. “That’s essentially the financial business model of universities.”
In principle there is nothing wrong with having international students come to Australia, Wild added, but he said the challenge was when the university’s “entire financial model is based on more and more international students.”
“What is that doing to outcomes? The standards? Are they lowering standards? Are they worried about failing students? I think it raises broader questions,” he said. “[Foreign] Influence is an issue, but it’s also an opportunity to revisit the entire financial model of our universities in Australia.”
Last year Victoria also formally signed onto China’s controversial One Belt, One Road initiative under Premier Daniel Andrews and Chinese ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye. Victoria is the only state in Australia to have joined the initiative, which aims to create two trade pathways between China and Europe.
Critics say the initiative “facilitates Chinese economic and strategic domination of the countries along these routes.”
Chinese investment means that the Australian government won’t have to raise taxes to build more infrastructure, but Wild said that it “creates a vulnerability.”
“I’m not convinced that it’s very healthy to have a state government signing up to an initiative that the Commonwealth government has said is a problem from a national security perspective,” Wild said.
Wild believes the “biggest impediment” to business investment in Australia is red tape. At the highest level, he said it costs Australia $176 billion each year, citing research the Institute of Public Affairs undertook two years ago.
John Xiao contributed to this report.