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Confucius say … universities at risk in link-up with Chinese Government

Posted by Author on November 22, 2007

Tom Hyland, The Age, Australia, November 18, 2007- 

AUSTRALIAN universities risk jeopardising their academic freedom by accepting Chinese Government money to set up new institutes, a former senior Australian diplomat has warned.

Melbourne University is one of four Australian universities that have set up, or are about to open, Confucius institutes.

The institutes are partly funded by the Chinese Government as part of a co-ordinated official campaign to win international influence by projecting “soft” power.

The institutes risk “dumbing down” research and producing propaganda, says Jocelyn Chey, a former China specialist in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Professor Chey was posted three times to China and Hong Kong, including a stint as consul-general in Hong Kong. She warned that universities need to approach the institutes with their eyes open, and “vigilantly guard their autonomy and academic freedom”.

Confucius institutes may have some value in their aims to teach Chinese language and culture, said Professor Chey, a visiting professor at the University of Sydney.

But she said universities needed to understand the political and strategic motives behind them, and that any move by the institutes to promote academic research was “fundamentally flawed” because of their close association with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

“At best, it will result in a dumbing-down of research; at worst, it will produce propaganda,” she said.

Professor Chey has outlined her concerns in an interview with The Sunday Age, and in a paper to be delivered tomorrow at the Sydney Institute, a think tank.

More than 120 Confucius institutes have been set up around the world, almost all attached to universities.

They are promoted by the National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language, commonly known as Hanban, attached to the Chinese Ministry of Education.

Hanban’s English-language website is open about the political and strategic thinking behind the institutes. The website carries a report on a “study session” attended by all CCP members of Hanban’s staff in February 2005, in which they were informed of the “positive significance” of the institutes in improving China’s “soft power”.

As a result of the session, party members gained a better understanding of the need to “enhance the party’s ability to exercise state power”.

Confucius institutes are operating at the universities of Western Australia, Adelaide and Melbourne. Sydney University is about to set one up……. ( more details from The Age)

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