The United States government has begun to tighten surveillance of Confucius Institutes operating in that country.
Confucius Institutes are non-profit educational institutions established by the Chinese government, in partnership with universities and other institutions around the world. Their ostensible goal is one of promoting Chinese language and culture, especially the teaching of the Chinese language.
However, the truth is that, under the guise of educational institutions, these same Confucian institutes are serving as global-scale propaganda tools of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The problem is that the Confucian institutes have become hotbeds for covert political machinations, funded to carry out Beijing’s propaganda activities and providing cover for how it conducts influence operations.
Academic freedom is a bedrock principle of university education, which naturally presupposes that academic institutions will preserve transparency.
Today there are Confucius Institutes operating in 15 universities in Japan, including at prestigious institutions like Waseda University and Ritsumeikan University.
Japan should pay close attention to how the U.S. government has ramped up surveillance of the Confucius Institutes operating within the United States.
On August 13, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that in the future the Confucius Institute in Washington D.C., which exercises overall control of all the Confucius Institutes in the country, would be treated as a “foreign mission” just like the Chinese embassy. That move followed determination that the Confucius Institutes receive funding from the Chinese government and the Propaganda Department of the CCP.
Earlier, in February 2018, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced that the FBI was conducting an investigation into the Confucius Institutes, which organizationally are under Hanban, a public institution for Chinese language teaching affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education.
Altogether, 540 Confucius Institutes have been established in universities and other institutions worldwide. According to the American Collegiate Scholarship Association, there are currently 75 Confucius Institutes active in the United States, of which 66 are in universities or junior colleges.
One problem is that the instructors and study materials are all provided by China, and apparently the parties accepting this assistance have virtually no say in terms of human rights or influence in shaping the curriculum.
Critics allege that the Confucius Institutes operating in American universities are parroting Beijing’s propaganda line in regards to sensitive subjects such as the Tiananmen Square massacre, Tibet, and Taiwan, thus interfering with the basic academic principle of a free exchange of opinions.
The United States is not the only place where host institutions have become wary of the role of the Confucius Institutes. In Canada and Europe as well, more and more universities are choosing to shutter their Confucius Institutes.
In Japan’s case, legal permission is not required to establish a Confucius Institute. And no one seems to be raising questions about the sources of funding, operational methods, or the content of instruction, as Japanese universities one after the next pursue academic cooperation with the Chinese.
We should not forget, however, that the establishment of a Confucius Institute on campus is the equivalent of the acceptance of an organ of the Chinese government on campus. The question is how this will impact the healthy education of Japanese young people who will shape the future.
The Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and other relevant governmental agencies must launch an investigation as soon as possible to determine the facts about this CCP front organization.
(Read the editorial in its original Japanese here.)
Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun