Intellectuals and activists against the Confucius Institute, Beijing’s way to “assimilate” Vietnam
by Paul N. Hung

Opened in December 2014, the facility gives Beijing “influence over Vietnam’s culture.” One scholar slams Beijing’s “soft power to infiltrate another country and culture.” Chinese influence brings “no benefits to Vietnam”. The decision by a northern province to build a temple dedicated to Confucius has made matters worse.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Many Intellectuals and civil society leaders Vietnamese have issued a warning against China’s attempt to influence Vietnam culturally through the initiatives and activities sponsored by the Confucius Institute inaugurated on 27 December last year.

This kind of institution "is a way for Beijing to influence Vietnamese culture," said Nguyen Nha, a well-known historian who has studied China and its policies in Southeast Asia for quite some time.

In his view, Beijing’s “soft power” is “used to infiltrate another country and culture, step by step.” The growth in China’s cultural influence and power bring “no benefits to Vietnam”.

Other scholars who spoke to AsiaNews share such fears, noting that Sino-Vietnamese cooperation “tends to subordinate Vietnam to a medieval Confucian vision”. And that, they say, “is a serious error” that will lead people “to lose trust in their own government”.

The Confucius Institute was set up by China’s Education Ministry to promote Chinese language and culture abroad, serve as a platform for cultural exchange and a bridge between East and West.

The first institute opened in Seoul, South Korea on 21 November 2004. Since then, 480 institutes have opened worldwide with a goal of a thousand by 2020. However, a few institutes have closed in a number of countries.

The Vietnamese location opened last December on the campus of the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Hanoi. Yu Zhengsheng, the fourth leading figure in the Chinese Communist Party, was present at the ceremony.

Critics of the Confucius Institute believe that its purpose is to promote the Chinese Communist Party, and change attitudes towards China worldwide.

For many in Vietnam, this means papering over conflicts in Sino-Vietnamese relations, and giving Beijing an opportunity to veto unpalatable cultural activities about China abroad.

Speaking at the institute’s inauguration, the dean of Hanoi University said that "will positively strengthen and develop relations between the two countries, Vietnam and China”.

For the Vietnamese government, the institute will serve as “a bridge between two friendly communist nations”.

However, slamming China’s “ideological interventionism,” many Vietnamese intellectuals, activists and nationalists see such words as a red flag, the more so after Vĩnh Phú provincial authorities recently authorised the construction of a multi-million dollar temple dedicated to Confucius on hectares of farmland expropriated from poor farmers.

Once plans for such a temple became public knowledge, many ordinary Vietnamese protested. As result of this, provincial officials denied that they had been finalised.

Still, national government and party officials did confirm that the province had already approved the project, stressing that “building a temple dedicated to Confucius is a normal thing in Vietnam.”

Not everyone agrees, opposed to the idea of such facility in Vietnam itself. "The Confucius Institute lays the ground for the Vietnamese government to fall into China’s sphere of influence and become more dependent on the new empire,” said Nguyen Van Tuấn, a Hanoi intellectual.