MELBOURNE, Australia—On Thursday, Oct. 31, an investigative documentary highlighting the opaque workings of the controversial ‘Confucius Institutes’ (CI), was screened at the Scot’s Church in Melbourne’s CBD.
Co-hosted by the Australia-Hong Kong link and the Vietnamese Community of Australia, the screening of the award-winning documentary ‘In the Name of Confucius’ saw local Melburnians witness Sonia Zhao, a Chinese-born and former Mandarin teacher for CI in Canada, defect from the CCP sponsored program due to her contract conditions stating that teachers could not be Falun Gong practitioners or be associated with them.
Falun Gong, also called Falun Dafa, is an ancient Chinese meditation practice, which has, as its base, the moral tenets of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. Falun Dafa has been severely suppressed in China since 1999.
Zhao, like the teachers working for CIs, were required to avoid topics like the Tiananmen Square massacre, Tibet, and Falun Gong in the classroom, as per CI’s policy. If pressed by a student for an answer, teachers were required to state the party line.
Zhao’s journey of defection from the CI led to the first closure of a CI at a North American university campus, as detailed in the film. Currently, there are around 100 CIs in operation in American universities. In Australia, there are Confucius Institutes in 14 Australian universities and Confucius Classrooms in 67 Australian schools.
Confucius Institutes Must Be Shut Down
As a panelist at the screening, Daniel Wild, Director of Research at the Institute of Public Affairs, said that CIs should not be allowed to operate on Australian campuses and schools.
“[CIs] are not consistent with our values of freedom and free inquiry on our university campuses,” Wild said.
“There’s a crisis on university campuses when it comes to foreign interference, and the CI is one of the primary ways in which that is happening … the money comes with strings attached.”
According to Business Insider, Hanban—which is linked to the CCP’s Ministry of Education and administers the CI programs—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.
On Aug. 22, the NSW Department of Education announced the scrapping of the CCP-linked Confucius Institutes in NSW public schools after a year-long review.
Despite legislation on foreign interference being passed by the Australian parliament, Paul Monk, former senior intelligence analyst with the Federal Government’s Defence Intelligence Organisation, said the legislation had not been fulfilled.
“Australia has actually led the world in the past few years by passing legislation to quite systematically push back against Chinese influence in this country.
“Legislation has passed, but [the Australian government] are not doing very much with that legislation,” Monk said.
Under the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme (FITS), which came into effect on Dec. 10, 2018, “any person who undertakes certain activities, on behalf of a foreign principal for the purpose of influencing a political or government process will be required to register under the scheme,” according to a Nov. 23 statement from the government department.
CIs have been reported to employ discriminatory hiring practices, spread communist propaganda, as well as engage in espionage. All aspects of operations, from hiring teachers to teaching materials, are controlled by the CCP’s ministry.
To date, none of the Confucius Institutes that partnered with the 13 Australian universities had registered.
Australia’s Vulnerability to CCP Influence
According to Monk, Australia became vulnerable to the CCP and its programs as China opened up to the world.
” … [For] most of the last 35 years, here and around the world, people have wanted China to open up, they’ve wanted to see it develop and prosper, they wanted it to be integrated [into] the Australian system.
“And they assumed that as those things happen, the Communist Party would gradually liberalize and become more friendly and attractive.”
Wild added that the West opened up to China on the premise that China would become more like the West, and embrace policies such as freedom and civil liberties.
“What the economic and foreign policies told us [is] that economic liberalization would bring political liberalization in China.
“What’s happening is that the West is becoming more like China. China is actually changing us,” Wild said.
“So China becomes a world leader in manufacturing AI (Artificial Intelligence) and various technologies so that they don’t have to be dependant on the west. So the west will become more of a third world.”
John Xiao, CEO of Melbourne’s Epoch Times, added that the nature of communism needs to be understood to understand how communist China is influencing the rest of the world.
“[N]ot only do they not change—they want to conquer the world—it’s China versus the world. Not China with the world. They want to have a new socialist model to conquer the world.”
On Hong Kong Protests
The recent protests in Hong Kong could not be ignored as the topic steered towards freedom versus tyranny.
The protests that started in early June, when millions took to the streets, are in part a pushback against Beijing’s influence. Protesters are also calling for greater democracy, such as universal suffrage, as well as an independent inquiry to investigate instances of police violence against protesters.
Phong Nguyen, vice-president of the Victorian chapter of the Vietnamese Community in Australia (VCA), believes that in the end, the people of Hong Kong will win.
“I believe that Beijing will not dare to move [into Hong Kong]. Why? Because as soon as Beijing moves in, the rest of the world … will boycott China.”
Xiao added that though democracy comes from the West, “it is Hong Kong today standing for it.”
“Hong Kong is the perfect example for the entire world to learn from,” Xiao said.
At the crux of the Hong Kong protests is the demand for civil liberties, Monk noted, which came from Britain, not China.
Concerning CCP infiltration in Australia, Monk said the task force that is meant to curb foreign influence had not been given the budget.
“Why is that? It’s because China’s influence is very substantial in this country,” Monk said.
“And there’s been a lot of lobbying behind the scenes to discourage politicians, to discourage business people, to discourage academics from taking a stand on this matter.”