Mason: It’s time to kick the Confucius Institute out of Canada

Hard to disagree:

In its 2019 annual report, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians documented an array of efforts by foreign powers to exert a corrosive influence over other countries, including this one.

To little surprise, the People’s Republic of China was identified as one of the worst offenders.

The report drew particular attention to a PRC law that directs all Chinese entities and individuals to contribute to state security and co-operate with intelligence services. The edict, the document noted, extends to Chinese groups and individuals operating outside the country.

It’s an all-encompassing doctrine fundamental to the country’s approach to statecraft, one rooted in the belief that there are two ways to gain power and influence over others: weapons, and language and culture.

Which brings us to the Confucius Institute.

This week, The Globe and Mail published yet another disturbing story about how Beijing is using these Chinese-backed educational operations for potentially nefarious means. E-mails and other documents obtained by The Globe verify what has long been suspected: There is far more going on at these operations than simply teaching Mandarin.

The records show that Beijing-based Confucius Institute administrators demand reports from those running their operations abroad on “external affairs,” including local political activities. It documented the control that the Communist Party exerts over the curriculum. The Globe watched a video of children at an institute in the Metro Vancouver city of Coquitlam standing in their classroom, pumping their fists and chanting: “I am proud! I am Chinese!” It could have been any classroom in Shenzhen.

Administrators in this same school district have come under fire in the past, for taking all-expenses-paid junkets to Beijing and other cities courtesy of the Chinese government. Students have also made these trips, which are intended to allow these folks an opportunity to witness firsthand all of the wonderful and joyous things the Chinese government is doing for its people.

It’s doubtful that any recent tours have included stops at the prisons where Canadian hostages Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig are being kept. Or the detention camps where the Chinese government has rounded up innocent Muslim Uyghurs. But I digress.

But not everyone sees the Confucius Institutes as innocently as school administrators in Coquitlam and elsewhere do. Several school districts, including in Toronto, have long since terminated their relationships with the organization, as have a few Canadian universities; New Brunswick plans to do the same by 2022. This has become a trend in the United States as well, where a number of colleges have said farewell to Confucius operations on their campuses.

The alarms down south have been sounded both by academics and top security officials. FBI director Christopher Wray testified before Congress in July, 2019, that the institutes offer the Chinese government a platform to disseminate “Communist Party propaganda, encourage censorship and to restrict academic freedom.”

This spring, meanwhile, Sweden became the first European country to shut down all CI operations in that country. While the government there had the same concerns about the institutes being mere propaganda arms of the Chinese government, it was also unquestionably influenced by the unjust detention of Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai, who was sentenced to 10 years in a Chinese jail for selling texts that were critical of President Xi Jinping.

It’s appalling that we, in Canada, allow Confucius Institutes to operate under the present circumstances. We have no laws or protections to force organizations acting in the interest of foreign powers to be registered and accountable. The United States, for instance, recently demanded that any Confucius Institutes that remain in the country register as a foreign mission. This means they must submit reports about their funding, personnel, curriculum and other activities. The Chinese government was furious.

In 2018, Australia passed the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act, which forces foreign-controlled entities to be much more accountable about their activities. It’s a law we should be bringing in here to thwart the unfettered access foreign governments seem to have in this country.

I fully support teaching the Chinese language and Chinese history in our schools. But we should fully control that curriculum, at any level. It should not be provided by others, especially by agents of a corrupt, oppressive regime that has kidnapped two of our countrymen in a subversive act of hostage diplomacy.

Under the present circumstances, there is no shame in saying that the Confucius Institute is not welcome here. The shame is that it still is.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-its-time-to-kick-the-confucius-institute-out-of-canada/

Beijing used influence over B.C. schools to push its agenda and keep tabs on Canadian politics, documents show

One really has to wonder what district officials were thinking or, perhaps more correctly, what they weren’t thinking:

The Confucius Institute, a controversial Chinese-backed educational organization, has taken a direct role in supporting Mandarin classes in some British Columbia schools while also asking local officials to report back on political developments, according to documents obtained by The Globe and Mail.

For years, School District No. 43 in Coquitlam, B.C., has dismissed critics of its Confucius Institute programming, which primarily delivers extracurricular Mandarin instruction and cultural programming that is backed and partly funded by the Chinese government.

The school district has argued students pay their own fees and that it maintains autonomy in hiring teachers for the program. Meanwhile, the Confucius Institute has emphasized that it operates after-school programs, leaving regular school-day instruction untouched.

But the institute has taken a more expansive role, providing resources for core courses as well, according to internal documents obtained by The Globe through an access to information request. The documents include e-mails, a board meeting agenda, the full text of agreements signed with Confucius headquarters, detailed event programs and an internal overview of Confucius teaching activities in the district.

Activities listed in the overview document include not only after-school programs but bilingual programs at Walton Elementary School, Scott Creek Middle School and five local high schools. In 2017, more than 3,500 children attended Confucius courses in Coquitlam.

Coquitlam began Mandarin instruction for elementary school students in 2010, two years after the creation of the Confucius Institute. The Confucius Institute helped to fund the bilingual programs, sending $7,000 to Walton for the purchase of supplies and a laptop to each teacher in the school’s Mandarin program, Ken Hoff, a spokesperson for School District No. 43, said in a detailed e-mail response to questions. Scott Creek Middle School received $4,000 for supplies, while the other schools were given $2,000. 

“This Mandarin language immersion program was instituted with the support of the Confucius Institute,” Coquitlam superintendent Patricia Gartland wrote in a 2017 e-mail.

Individual schools “chose how to spend the money provided and supplies were purchased locally,” Mr. Hoff said. The Confucius Institute “does not provide instructors for the bilingual programs,” he said.

Concern about Chinese government influence has prompted other Canadian school districts to abandon Confucius offerings, including the Toronto District School Board in 2014. Last year, New Brunswick said it would boot all Confucius Institutes by 2022.

Confucius Institute defenders say it is interested only in enhancing international mutual understanding and friendship, while equipping students in Canada with communication skills in Mandarin. But critics see it as a source of pro-China messages.

At the 10th anniversary of the Coquitlam Confucius Institutes, according to video posted to YouTube, a group of children pumped fists as they recited in unison “I am proud, I am Chinese,” a poem written by Wang Huairang, a patriotic writer. The poem praises the “five-star red flag” and the “Yan’an spirit,” a reference to the Communist revolution.

Most of the Coquitlam schools use Chinese Made Easy, a textbook written by a Hong Kong educator but distributed by a Chinese state-owned publisher, according to an internal Confucius overview document. Walton, according to the documents, has used Happy Chinese, which is published by China’s People’s Education Press and contains maps that show Taiwan as a province of China, while also depicting Tiananmen Square as a cheery destination in lessons to practice speaking directions. The textbook is commonly used by Confucius Institutes. Walton no longer uses Happy Chinese, Mr. Hoff said. The Confucius Institute has, however, provided language testing to students in public-school Mandarin programs.

“The School District is in charge of the curriculum offered, supervises what is taught and there has never been an attempt from anyone in China to influence curricular decisions,” Mr. Hoff said.

But the Coquitlam documents suggest an interest by the institute beyond linguistic concerns. In a list of required elements for a detailed Confucius Institute assessment, the program’s administrators in China requested reports on the “external environment” — including politics and diplomacy — as well as attitudes toward the Institute among local government and community leaders. They also ask for information on the participation of Chinese-funded companies in building the Confucius Institute. The Coquitlam Institute denied using the self-assessment. The institute “has not used the reporting template you have described,” Mr. Hoff said. In internal e-mails from 2017, however, Ms. Gartland thanks in advance the institute’s China director, May Sun, “for submitting the self-assessment by the deadline.”

The internal assessment document could be seen as “simple good management of the programme being run by the Chinese,” said former CSIS head Ward Elcock. But he has long seen Confucius Institutes as “the thin edge of the wedge of foreign influence activities carried out by the Chinese state.” Increasingly assertive Chinese government actions overseas have made the institutes “very problematic,” he said. The “exhaustive” internal assessment requirements further buttresses that concern, he said.

Others are critical of the overall agreement. “I just believe that this arrangement is actually morally bankrupt,” said Brad West, the mayor of Coquitlam. He noted that the same Chinese government that has funded the local Confucius program is also responsible for the mass detention of Muslim Uyghurs and the incarceration of two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, he said.

Under the Coquitlam school district’s agreement with Confucius Institute Headquarters in Beijing, the Chinese government is obligated to pay airfares and salaries for teachers involved in its own programs, deliver thousands of volumes of books and other materials, provide $150,000 in cash startup funds and provide annual funding – $352,219 for the current school year.

In agreeing to establish the Confucius Institute, the school district signed off on terms that give Beijing wide latitude to evaluate instruction, demand respect for Chinese “cultural custom” – and terminate its outpouring of money if Coquitlam damages the image of the program. The institute’s after-school courses charge fees of $200 to $220 per semester. This year, that is expected to add up to $220,000, less than 40 per cent of the institute’s funding. The remainder comes from Beijing.

As the Coquitlam district has embraced Confucius, it has seen considerable revenue from international students, who pay high tuition fees. In 2019, nearly 10 per cent of its revenue came from tuition payments, roughly double the provincial average. Coquitlam has previously said that more than half of its foreign students come from China.

Meanwhile, the Confucius agreement with Coquitlam gives Beijing control over choosing instructors, as well, although Mr. Hoff said “teachers in the CI in Coquitlam are not sent by CI headquarters and are hired here in Coquitlam.” Confucius headquarters has not sent staff to assess instructors in Coquitlam, he said.

But LinkedIn records show that at least two instructors worked as teachers in mainland China shortly before beginning work for the Coquitlam institute, which says it only uses local staff. And last year, a five-member group from Confucius headquarters came to Port Coquitlam for a meeting to discuss current work and a vision for future development. Two representatives from the Chinese consulate also attended.

The school district says it has not considered re-evaluating the program. “To date,” Mr. Hoff said, “there has been no discussion around the closure of the Confucius Institute in Coquitlam.”

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/world/article-beijing-used-influence-over-bc-schools-to-push-its-agenda-and-keep/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=Morning%20Update&utm_content=2020-10-15_6&utm_term=Morning%20Update:%20Beijing%20uses%20B.C.%20schools%20to%20push%20agenda,%20keep%20tabs%20on%20Canadian%20politics:%20documents&utm_campaign=newsletter&cu_id=%2BTx9qGuxCF9REU6kNldjGJtpVUGIVB3Y

China’s Confucius Institutes confronting US demand to register

While no fan of the Trump administration, Canada should consider a similar measure:

The Trump administration is increasing scrutiny of a long-established Chinese-government funded programme that’s dedicated to teaching Chinese language and culture in the US and other nations, the latest escalation of tensions with Beijing.

The State Department plans to announce as soon as Thursday (Aug 13) that Confucius Institutes in the US – many of which are based on college campuses – will need to register as “foreign missions,” according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified.

The designation would amount to a conclusion that Confucius Institutes are “substantially owned or effectively controlled” by a foreign government. That would subject them to administrative requirements similar to those for embassies and consulates.

The State Department, which didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, took similar action toward several Chinese media outlets earlier this year.

The institutes have long been a target of China hawks, with lawmakers including Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, urging schools in his state to terminate their agreements with them.

He called them “Chinese government-run programmes that use the teaching of Chinese language and culture as a tool to expand the political influence” of the government.

The move is likely to further stoke tensions with Beijing as the two countries clash over everything from the governance of Hong Kong to 5G technology.

This week, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar became the highest-ranking American official to visit Taiwan in more than 40 years, while Secretary of State Michael Pompeo used a speech in Prague to blast the Chinese Communist Party’s “campaigns of coercion and control.”

Of some 550 Confucius Institutes around the world, 80 are based at US colleges, including Stanford University and Savannah State University in Georgia, according to the National Association of Scholars, a non-partisan research group that has studied them.

Although the institutes generally steer clear of history, politics and current affairs, critics say they are vehicles for Chinese influence on campuses, providing the government in Beijing leverage to censor teaching materials and academic events by threatening to withdraw funding for the institutes.

The National Association of Scholars opposes them because it says their funding lacks transparency and topics sensitive to China’s government are off limits.

Source: https://www.straitstimes.com/world/united-states/chinas-confucius-institutes-confronting-us-demand-to-register

Chinese government’s Confucius Institute holds sway on Canadian campuses, contracts indicate

Of note:

Sonia Zhao had to lie, in effect, when she left China to teach Mandarin at an Ontario university.

The contract she signed with the Beijing-run Confucius Institute indicated that Falun Gong practitioners – people like her – were barred from the job. But she kept her beliefs secret and hoped she could find more freedom in Canada. It was not to be.

She says she was trained beforehand to spin Beijing’s line if students asked about Tibet and other taboo topics, while Chinese staff at McMaster University’s branch of the institute made clear Falun Gong was poison. After a year, she quit and sought asylum here, becoming perhaps the world’s first Confucius Institute whistle-blower.

“I think they’re aiming to build a really beautiful, healthy image (of China) among those students,” Zhao said about the institute’s ultimate purpose. She believes Canada should have nothing to do with the agency. “It isn’t worth it to give up your freedom of speech or freedom even of thinking just to learn about a different language or culture.”

Her experience in 2011 did lead McMaster to end its relationship with the institute, a division of China’s education ministry that pays for Mandarin-language and cultural programs worldwide – and has long been embroiled in controversy. Advocates call the organization a generously funded cultural bridge, critics decry it as a “Trojan horse” for Chinese propaganda and influence.

But 10 other universities, colleges and boards of education across Canada still host their own Confucius outlets. And a National Post survey of the closely guarded contracts they signed found little in them that might prevent the kind of censorship and discriminatory hiring highlighted by Zhao.

Only one of seven agreements obtained by the Post includes any protection for academic freedom.

Several of the contracts indicate the local institutes must accept the agency headquarters’ assessment of “teaching quality.” One at the University of Waterloo-affiliated Renison College says any disagreements about running the institute should be referred to the Beijing headquarters, called Hanban.

Almost all bar the institutes from contravening Canadian or Chinese law, the latter routinely excoriated for its abuse of basic human rights. They also require compliance with the institute’s own constitution and bylaws. To this day, Hanban’s website says overseas teachers must have “no record of participation in Falun Gong and other illegal organizations,” a clear violation of Canadian constitutional and rights law.

Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., even pledged to find a “prominent location” to erect a statue of Confucius to advertise the institute’s presence.

“I would say (Confucius headquarters) have absolute control,” said lawyer Clive Ansley  after reviewing some of the contracts. The former China studies professor practiced for several years in the country. “Any decision on what they call teaching quality, teaching materials, it’s all going to be made by Hanban.”

Ivy Li of the group Canadian Friends of Hong Kong said she was struck by the different roles set out in the contracts she perused at the Post’s request.

The Canadian hosts agree to provide office and classroom space and a steady supply of students, and in some cases to promote the program. Most of the contracts also say the Canadian school will provide funding, directly or in kind, at least equal to what the Chinese government contributes.

Hanban, the contracts stipulate, supplies the content – Mandarin teachers, textbooks, course software and other educational materials, which Li said come with Beijing’s particular spin.

“Even purely from a business point of view, it’s a very bad deal,” she charged. “Our universities are being used as a platform to promote (China’s) message, and that message is disinformation.”

But administrators here argue that despite what the contracts suggest, China does not actually interfere in the arrangements – arrangements they argue are an important conduit between the two nations. Meanwhile, they say, political issues never arise in the type of activities – from language training to Tai Chi – the institutes oversee.

“We have not had any pressure from China to do anything other than enhance cultural understanding,” said Lorne Parker, an assistant superintendent with the Edmonton public school division. “We are looking at our relationship with (Confucius Institute) as building a cultural bridge and not a wall. You can have more influence … by having those bridges.”

Launched in 2004, Confucius has opened 540 branches around the world. Unlike Alliance Francaise, the Goethe Institute and other cultural-outreach groups funded by some European states, it is an actual department of government and embeds itself, uniquely, inside foreign educational bodies.

The organization is hosted in Canada by two school boards – Coquitlam, B.C., and Edmonton – plus two colleges – Montreal’s Dawson and Toronto’s Seneca – and six universities – Saint Mary’s, Carleton, Waterloo, Brock, Regina and Saskatchewan.

The official stated goal is to teach Mandarin and spread the good word about Chinese culture and traditions. But even Xu Lin, Hanban’s director general, has said Confucius Institutes are “an important part of our soft power.”

“We want to expand China’s influence. This relies on our instructors, Confucius Institutes and language,” she told a conference in Beijing.

After a burst of expansion in Canada, there has been some retrenchment in recent years. Both McMaster and Quebec’s Sherbrooke University shut down their institutes amid controversy, while New Brunswick is in the process of closing the Confucius program run through one of its school districts. Toronto’s board killed the institute in 2014 just as it was about to launch. The B.C. Institute of Technology’s branch has been suspended.

But the program appears to be going strong elsewhere. To understand what the remaining hosts agreed to in exchange for Beijing’s largesse, the Post asked all for copies of the contracts they signed.

Three refused. Carleton University and Seneca College offered no reason for the denial; St. Mary’s University in Halifax said its contract is “with an external organization, and is a record that is not publicly available.” A university spokesman suggested the Post file a freedom of information request, a process that typically takes months, with no guarantee of success.

In fact, several of the Confucius contracts contain non-disclosure clauses.

Other schools said they had secured Hanban’s permission to release their agreements, or the documents had already been disclosed to local media after freedom of information applications.

All set up an arrangement between the Canadian educational facility and a partner college in China, with a director appointed from each side and a board to oversee the institute. In almost every case, Hanban agrees to supply Mandarin teachers, as many as 3,000 textbooks and other teaching material. Some mention start-up funding from Beijing of $150,000 to $250,000.

China provides about 15 teachers at a time to the Edmonton school district, though they act as “supports” in Mandarin classes that are led by the board’s own staff, said Parker.

“We received about a million dollars’ worth of books and materials from Hanban,” Bob Lajoie of the Coquitlam School District enthused to filmmaker Doris Liu in her documentary In the name of Confucius.

The nature of those books is a concern for some institute critics. Terry Russell, a senior scholar in China studies at the University of Manitoba, said institute texts he’s seen talk of Tibet being “liberated” by China and Taiwan forming part of the country.

“The perspective that is set out in the teaching materials is very much the Chinese perspective,” he said.

Most of the contracts also contain a clause that says “the institute must accept the assessment of the headquarters (Hanban) on the teaching quality.”

It suggests a degree of control by Beijing that director general Xu spelled out openly in an interview previously posted on the organization’s website.

“We haven’t lost education sovereignty,” Xu said. “It’s like the foreign universities work for us.”

Zhao said training before she left China was clear: never mention sensitive topics and if asked about them, offer Beijing’s standard line, that “Tibet is part of China and the government is treating them nicely, that Taiwan is part of China.”

When she and other Confucius teachers at McMaster watched and discussed the Hollywood movie Seven Years in Tibet – a critical look at China’s treatment of the region – their Chinese director said “if we kept talking about those things or watching those things, we need to write a report about our thinking because our minds, our thoughts are not following the Communist party.Institute staff immediately tossed in the garbage a Falun Gong pamphlet brought in by a student, she said.

But Edmonton’s Parker said Hanban does not assess the teaching work there, and suggested the clause was included only to ensure the agency’s teachers provide good-quality instruction.

A Coquitlam spokesman said that its Confucius staff are hired locally, without the agency’s input, and Hanban has never visited the district to perform assessments.

Institute administrators in Canada also deny having to abide by any aspect of Chinese law or Hanban rules, despite what the contracts say.

“I’m not aware of any of those restrictions,” Parker said when asked about the Falun Gong teacher ban.

But if some Canadian Confucius partners dismiss any suggestion of undue influence from China, and their contracts erect limited firewalls against potential Beijing meddling, there is at least one exception.

When the University of Saskatchewan renewed its agreement with Hanban in 2016, it managed to include a provision that said the institute’s activities “will respect academic freedom and transparency, as well as University of Saskatchewan institutional values, priorities and policies.”

Without that caveat, the contract would not have been extended, Karen Chad, the university’s vice-president research, said in a statement.

But critics of the Confucius Institute question whether it will have much impact. To achieve its goals, they say, the institute has never needed to overtly propagate Chinese propaganda. It has taught Mandarin and presented Chinese culture in a way that simply avoids mention of religious persecution, censorship and other topics unflattering to the Communist regime.

“The Canadians get duped as they most often do when they deal with the government of China. They get duped into thinking these things are just cultural institutions and ‘Hey it’s a good idea to have a lot of Canadians learning Mandarin,’ ” said Ansley. “That’s not the Chinese goal at all … The goal is soft power, to promote a favourable image of China in the minds of Canadians.”

Source: Chinese government’s Confucius Institute holds sway on Canadian campuses, contracts indicate