The NSW government has decided to review China’s state-sponsored Confucius Institutes that have been operating in Australian classrooms. The decision comes at a time when the federal government is looking to strengthen its foreign interference laws after reports of interference by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Australian politics was swept into the public eye last year.
On May 8, a spokesmаn for Rob Stokes, the NSW Eduсаtion Minister, told the ABC that the department is now investigating concerns raised over CCP-funded Confucius classrooms program that has been operating in NSW schools, with one main concern being that children are being exposed to propaganda.
The spokesman said, “The Department of Education’s relationship with the Confucius Institute (CI) is currently under review to ensure that there are no inappropriate influences from foreign powers.”
Current Arrangements in NSW
Charles Sturt University’s public ethics professor, Clive Hamilton, a vocal critic of the CCP, has affirmed that Confucius Classrooms are being used to spread Communist Propaganda.
“The objective of the Confucius Classroom is to spread a positive image of Communist Party rule in China. And so anything that might be a negative to detract from Communist Party history in China is whited out, students don’t hear about it,” Professor Hamilton told SBS News.
CCP speeches and publications openly describe CIs as being designed to influence perceptions of China and China policies abroad. According to Geoff Wade, a visiting fellow at the Crawford School of Public Policy at ANU, “Li Changchun, a Politburo member, says the Institutes are ‘an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up’ and Deputy Education Minister Hao Ping has noted that ‘establishing Confucius Institutes is a strategic plan for increasing our soft power.’”
The Epoch Times has reported extensively on the institute’s agenda. As well as spreading communist propaganda, CIs employ discriminatory hiring practices and have been reported to engage in espionage.
Teachers who work for CI’s lack formal academic freedom and are pressured to avoid certain topics, such as the Tiananmen Square massacre, Tibet, Taiwan, Falun Gong, and criticisms of Communist Party legitimacy, as detailed by the National Association of Scholars (NAS) in the United States.
Under the agreements signed with universities overseas, the CCP has ultimate control over the CI’s curriculum, the hiring and training of staff, budgetary investment, and the organisational structure and its activities, according to Wade.
All CI institutes are obliged to report their annual projects and accounts back to their Beijing headquarters “for examination and approval” purposes. According to The Citizen, this effectively gives a foreign body, the Chinese government, “potential veto power over work done with an Australian government department.”
Monetary Enticements for Schools
In New South Wales, Hanban paid $US150,000 to create a Confucius Institute within the NSW Education Department. It also funds teaching assistants for the schools and provides $US10,000 for each new Confucius Classroom, reported Business Insider.
Former Australian senior intelligence analyst Ross Babbage said that this arrangement is unacceptable.
“These Confucius Institute initiatives cannot be seen as somehow separate, or an abstraction from [China’s Ministry of Education]. Accepting Chinese government-funded personnel within an Australian state government department is a very serious issue that deserves urgent review,” Babbage told The Citizen.
Canada Said ‘No Confucius Institutes’
In October 2014, the Toronto District School Board — Canada’s largest school board — terminated its agreement with CIs.
In the lead up to the termination, the Canadian Association of University Teachers issued a statement calling all Canadian universities and colleges to cut ties with CIs. The American Association of University Professors issued a similar statement, asking American universities not to partner with CIs.
In Australia, Confucius Institutes are based in many local schools and universities.
In NSW alone, 13 primary and secondary schools have opened up Confucius Classrooms.
Taiwanese community member Carole Lu, who avoided enrolling her daughter in a school that had a Confucius Classroom, told the ABC, “I’m worried about what kind of culture they are going to teach the children.”
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