The 10-year-old Confucius Institute at Sweden’s Stockholm University is slated to be closed down this June, according to a statement by the university on Dec. 20. The decision to boot the Beijing-funded Chinese language program comes amid increasing international concern regarding the hiring practices of and content taught by the Institutes, which must toe the Chinese Communist Party’s ideological line.
Astrid Söderbergh Widding, vice-chancellor of Stockholm University, told the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter that the local Confucius Institute, set up in 2005, had outlived its usefulness in light of progress made by the university in independently establishing links to China since then. She also mentioned the need for financial autonomy.
“Generally it is questionable to have, within the framework of the university, institutes that are financed by another country,” Widding said.
Established in 2004 and run by Beijing, Confucius Institutes are language programs cooperating with overseas schools and universities.
Sometimes compared to Germany’s Goethe-Institut or the Alliance Française, Confucius Institutes differ from these groups in that they are directly incorporated into overseas educational institutions. The Confucius Institutes may be particularly appealing for many smaller universities and schools unable to fund their own, independent Chinese programs.
In recent years, however, the Institutes have come under fire for exporting the Chinese Communist Party views and censorship to other countries, under the guise of teaching Chinese. Teachers working for the Confucius Institutes are prohibited from discussing sensitive topics such as Tibetan or Taiwanese independence or the persecution of Falun Gong, and they are barred from holding faiths suppressed by the Chinese regime in China.
Additionally, Confucius Institutes, which were once praised by Li Changchun, former head of China’s Propaganda Department, as “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda setup,” have been implicated in the industrial espionage that is rife among overseas Chinese.
As reported previously by Epoch Times, controversy resulting from the discriminatory hiring practices of the Confucius Institutes led McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, to pull the plug on its contract for the Institute on its campus, which ended in July 2013.
Sonia Zhao, a former teacher at McMaster, was required in her hiring contract to keep secret her faith in Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual practice persecuted in China by the communist authorities since 1999.
Toward the end of 2013, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), which represents over 70,000 Canadian academic professionals, called on universities and colleges to cut their ties with Confucius Institutes, which it said are “subsidized and supervised by the authoritarian government of China.”
In June 2014, the American Association of University Professors joined its Canadian counterpart in urging universities not to partner with the controversial Institutes.
In September, the University of Chicago declined to renew its contract to host a Confucius Institute, and a week after the University announced its decision, Pennsylvania State University followed suit.
In October, Michel Juneau-Katsuya, former chief of Asia-Pacific for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and now head of a private security consulting firm, warned the Toronto School Board against the influence of Confucius Institutes in academia, calling them Trojan horses.
“There is publicly available information stating clearly that Western counterintelligence agencies have identified Confucius Institutes as forms of spy agencies used by the [Chinese] government and employed by the [Chinese] government,” he said.