As India Steps Up Pressure Campaign on China, Confucius Institutes Put Under Review

August 18, 2020 Updated: August 19, 2020

India is taking a “hard look” at two Chinese-language learning programs within Indian universities, with experts saying the Beijing-controlled Confucius Institutes (CI) are spreading the Chinese regime’s communist propaganda inside other countries.

India’s decision to review the programs is a sign of the deteriorating bilateral ties between the two countries following a bloody clash in June between the Indian military and the People’s Liberation Army in June at Galwan in the territory of Ladakh.

“This is a part of the overall strategy to bring pressure on China,” Bibhu Prasad Routray, an Indian strategic analyst and the director of Mantraya, a Goa-based think tank, told The Epoch Times.

India has CI programs in seven universities and 54 memos of understanding on inter-school cooperation involving China. Its Ministry of Education sent a letter to these institutes on July 29 seeking information about their activities, reported Indian daily The Hindu.

Eventually, the officials narrowed their focus to two CI branches—at the University of Mumbai and The School of Chinese Language in Kolkata—after the first high-level review meeting of the ministry took place on Aug. 5.

“There is a proposal to take a close, hard look at the activities of the two institutes,” said a government official, according to Indian newspaper Hindustan Times.

“There are some facts that came to our attention during the review which we feel require deeper scrutiny.”

Routray said scrutinizing the CI is in line with recent efforts by the Indian government to ban 59 Chinese apps, including TikTok, WeShare, WeChat, and Helo, on grounds that these applications threaten the “sovereignty and security” of India.

Rachelle Peterson, a senior research fellow at the New York-based National Association of Scholars, told The Epoch Times in an email that the Indian government should be wary of CI programs because they are a part of “China’s overseas propaganda network.”

“They spread Chinese Communist Party-approved messages and seek to turn students and local citizens into supporters of the Chinese regime. They entangle colleges and universities in a financial relationship that leaves them dependent on China,” wrote Peterson, whose report “Outsourced to China” studied how Confucius Institutes serve China’s soft power in various centers of American higher education.

Protesters demonstrate outside the Toronto District School Board on Jan. 11, 2014, urging the board not to implement a Confucius Institute program in Toronto schools. (Allen Zhou/The Epoch Times)

Threat Behind Confucius Institutes

Doris Liu, director of the award-winning documentary “In the Name of Confucius,” told The Epoch Times that Confucius Institutes are absolutely controlled by the Chinese Communist Party and thus they serve its agenda.

More than 1,700 foreign education institutes in more than 162 countries or regions have adopted CI programs since they started being promoted by the Chinese regime in 2004, Liu says.

“Those institutes could practice espionage activities on behalf of China’s government. So they pose infringements of national security of whatever country [where] they are physically opened,” she said, adding that these espionage activities and the inherent threat would have likely increased as the bilateral ties between India and China deteriorated following the bloody clash in Galwan.

The United States declared the headquarters of the CI in Washington as a foreign mission of the People’s Republic of China on Aug. 13.

“For more than four decades, Beijing has enjoyed free and open access to U.S. society, while denying that same access to Americans and other foreigners in China. Furthermore, the PRC has taken advantage of America’s openness to undertake large scale and well-funded propaganda efforts and influence operations in this country,” the State Department stated in a release.

Routray said India’s concerns are also the same, as China isn’t as open to India as India is to China, and India doesn’t get anything out of the education exchange.

“This is a present tactic by India to say that we will go to any extent to sort of cut ties with you. Because we have invested a lot, but we got nothing in return from you,” he said, adding that India’s efforts to review the institutes show that it is trying to act in unison with the United States.

“India is trying something that  represents a kind of convergence between Indian strategy and the U.S. strategy against China.”

documentary In The Name of Confucius
The award-winning documentary In The Name of Confucius premiers in Western Australia in the state library on Dec. 5, 2018. (The Epoch Times)

‘Whitewash China’s Human Rights Abuses’

Experts said another threat to countries that host the CI is the role these institutes play to build China’s image and silently promote its communist agendas.

“Confucius Institutes teach Chinese Communist Party-aligned materials, whitewash China’s human rights abuses, minimize China’s aggression, and entirely excise events such as the Tiananmen Square massacre. They bring Chinese government-selected teachers and textbooks to college classrooms. There is no appropriate place for Confucius Institutes on college campuses,” Peterson said.

Liu, who was working as a lecturer in a leading university in China that delivered support to CI programs before she migrated to Canada 15 years ago, highlighted three reported incidents in the past when Confucius Institutes interfered in free activities in host countries to protect its image.

Tel Aviv University closed an exhibition in 2008 about Falun Gong, a spiritual discipline banned inside China, under pressure from its CI program. A year later, North Carolina State University canceled an on-campus speech of Dalai Lama for the same reasons.

The most recent incident that Liu cites is from 2014 in Portugal and involved a leading official of Hanban, or the Office of the Chinese Language Council International, that until two months ago administered the CI globally.

“Hanban director Xu Lin ordered her staff to remove the few pages from all program books of the European Association for Chinese Studies’ annual conference because these pages contained information about Taiwan’s Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation which was also a sponsor of the event,” said Liu.

Epoch Times Photo
Former Confucius Institute teacher Sonia Zhao demonstrates against the Confucius Institutes outside the Toronto District School Board. (Mark Media)

‘Breach of Academic Freedom’

Liu said the CI censors and breaches academic freedom as the Chinese regime promotes its global agendas including its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, also known as One Belt, One Road) through it.

“Teachers and students were required to watch the CCP’s 19th National Congress and study Xi Jinping’s opening remarks, including the ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative,” Liu said. At the Sapienza University of Rome, for example, CI program students were made to watch propaganda films promoting the Party line and the BRI as part of their study of the CCP’s 19th National Congress.

The Indian Ministry of Education hasn’t yet disclosed what it’s specifically scrutinizing about the two CI programs, but Routray said the Indian government is aware of how these institutes are spreading CCP influence inside India.

“The government assumes that these institutes are not just educational institutes, per se, but also are being used by the Chinese to influence the thought processes within India to generate a pro-China lobby within India to support academicians who want to have some kind of a soft leaning on the Chinese thought process,” Routray said.

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