The State Department say they promote the global agenda of the Chinese Communist Party. Universities that host them are under pressure not to embarrass Beijing. The culture centers offer a "partisan" view of China and are accused of industrial espionage. Western observers: They threaten freedom of expression and thought. The problem for Italy.
Beijing (AsiaNews) - For the US government, the Confucius institutes are Chinese "state propaganda outlets". Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced yesterday that the Chinese cultural organization - controlled and financed by the government, and a symbol of the Asian giant's soft power - is committed to promoting the global agenda of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in US universities.
The tightening on Confucius Institutes, which offer Chinese language and culture programs, comes amid growing tensions between the two superpowers. The Trump administration continues to accuse Beijing of expansionist aims in East and Southeast Asia, of following unfair trade practices, of stealing industrial and technological secrets and of violating human rights internally and in Hong Kong. The current occupant of the White House also blames China for the Covid-19 pandemic.
Under the new provisions, the staff of institutes in US territory will have to register and comply with restrictions similar to those for diplomatic personnel. The same measure was adopted in recent months for journalists from nine Chinese state media.
According to Washington, Chinese cultural bodies are exerting pressure on the universities that host them – at a high fee - prompting them to censor speeches and news considered sensitive by the Beijing leadership.
In many quarters it is noted that the institutes offer a "partisan" view of China and its authorities. The lectures do not deal with issues such as the Tiananmen massacre, the oppression of Uyghurs and Tibetans, the battle for democracy in Hong Kong and in China itself, and the de facto independence of Taiwan.
Given their relations with the government and large Chinese state companies, the Confucius centers are also accused of industrial espionage. Due to the risk of losing sensitive and secret data related to intellectual property, dozens of US universities have already cut off relations with the institution.
There are currently 75 Confucius Institutes in the United States: 548 worldwide. Many Western observers, academic and non-academic, believe that the Chinese cultural entity poses a serious threat to freedom of thought and expression in education.
This debate is also emerging in Italy, where there are 12 centers, housed in as many universities. Many academics point to the failure of Italian sinologists to take a stance on the repression in Hong Kong and the rest of China as a confirmation that the educational institutions linked to the CCP influence condition the universities they collaborate with.