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The Chinese philosopher Confucius is often quoted as having once said, “It does not matter how slowly you go, so long as you do not stop”. This saying can be aptly applied in the fight for an end to the Uyghur oppression, and in exposing the Chinese government for its appalling crimes against humanity in East Turkestan. In this news piece, we look at two heads of a Chinese dragon that have been actively swaying the public perception of China and are responsible for targeting dissidents around the globe – starting with Confucius Institutes. 
There has been increased reporting in recent days around the so-called Confucius Institutes – officially termed as places of Mandarin education and cultural promotion that usually are located in universities and other existing places of study, but that which are in reality Chinese government propaganda machines that are funded by the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China.
Given their huge footprint and academic and other related controversies in countries such as the United States, Australia, South Korea, Japan, the United Kingdom, and others, there have been growing calls for such institutes to be closed. Indeed, owing to the immense soft power possessed by such centres, and the concerns around censorship and Chinese government overreach on foreign educational institutions, many sites have already been shut down in recent years. Moreover, since Britain welcomed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak into Downing Street last week, the government has been openly speaking of closing these propaganda instruments, once and for all. Many countries have already taken steps to reduce the harmful impact of such institutes, while others have been closed altogether, such as at the Netherlands’ Vrije Universiteit and Finland’s Helsinki University.   
The WUC and its partner organisations organised a protest to urge the city council of Ingolstadt to cut its funding of the Confucius Institute. pic.twitter.com/l7zNRTfO90— World Uyghur Congress (@UyghurCongress) July 29, 2021
Tom Tugendhat, the British Minister of State for Security, told fellow MPs on Tuesday that the Confucius Institutes “pose a threat to civil liberties in many universities in the United Kingdom”.  In addition, Sunak has previously promised to close the centres.
During the Conservative party leadership campaign in July 2022, Sunak said,
“I would close all 30 of China’s Confucius Institutes in the UK – the highest number in the world. Almost all UK government spending on Mandarin language teaching at school is channelled through university-based Confucius Institutes, thereby promoting Chinese soft power.
“I will build a new international alliance of free nations to tackle Chinese cyber-threats and share best practice in technology security. I will expand MI5’s reach to provide greater support to British businesses and universities to counter Chinese industrial espionage.
“We’ll work across government and with security services to build a toolkit to help companies protect their intellectual property.”   
Confucius Institutes have been around since 2004, with the first branch opening in the South Korean capital, Seoul. The opening of this branch came after a pilot centre was set up in Uzbekistan.
Following the 21 November 2004 opening of South Korea’s Confucius Institute, there have been hundreds of similar centres established around the globe. The programme is financed by what is colloquially referred to as Hanban or the Office of Chinese Language Council International. This quasi-governmental body was itself set up in 1987 and was, until at least recently, chaired by the former Chinese Vice Premier and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Politburo member, Liu Yandong. 
Professor Jocelyn Chey, a former diplomat and expert on China-Australia relations, has been quoted as saying that Confucius Institutes are “a propaganda vehicle for the Chinese Communist Party”. And in reference to their German and French equivalents, Chey has said that Confucius Institutes are “not a counterpart to the Goethe Institute or Alliance Française”. 
The breakneck growth of Confucius Institutes has long been a concern for legislators around the world. To give a sense of the speed at which such centres began to appear, the National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language (NOCFL) chief said in 2006 that he hoped there would be a hundred such institutes by the end of the year, with a thousand sites by 2020. 
Although the 1,000-centre target has not been realised as of 2022, there are still estimated to be 530 such sites as of 2019. 
Ulterior motive from the outset
While the establishment of Confucius Institutes was originally portrayed as allowing foreigners to learn about Chinese culture and to study the Mandarin language, many governments around the world have begun to recognise that there may be a more sinister motive behind the centres.
Of course, China is not the first country to explore the idea of cultural education centres around the globe. Others include the British Council, Italy’s Società Dante Alighieri, France’s Alliance Française, and Germany’s Goethe-Institut.
The distinction is made with China’s Confucius Institutes, however, due to the fact that the centres are often embedded or weaved into existing educational institutions. As a result, this has caused challenges around finances, freedom of expression, and issues with censorship due to some instances of universities benefitting from large Chinese investments which may have led to undue influence and a sense of beholdenness.
As the CEO of the British Council, Sir Martin Davidson, once put it,
“We are a stand-alone organization operating out of our own premises. They [Confucius Institutes] are being embedded in university campuses. The real question has to be one of independence… The danger is more of self-censorship – which is a very subtle thing.” 
Back in July of 2019, the Australian daily paper, The Age, reported that a number of Australian universities who had partnered up with Chinese government-funded Institutes had signed contracts that effectively forced them into complying with Beijing’s decision-making authority. This raised serious questions around academic freedoms and how and why China was allowed to gain such power at a number of Australian educational establishments. 
Professor John Fitzgerald, a specialist in Chinese politics and emeritus professor at Swinburne University of Technology, told The Age that clauses on teaching could put universities in breach of higher education standards, if such clauses related to the awarding of degrees.
“Even if they are not in breach of standards, accepting foreign government assessments of Australian university teaching programs is hardly a good look.
“Australian universities enjoy freedom and autonomy because they are generally believed to be self-governing institutions not subject to foreign government interference. Anything that undermines that belief risks harming the sector as a whole.” 
Confucius Institutes + Uyghur “re-education camps” = ?
While the revelation that Confucius Institutes are being utilised as a propaganda and censorship tool by the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing is not breaking news, it is certainly renewed news. It is critical to maintain pressure on the Chinese government to reconsider its actions in relation to such entities.
When laid out in comparison with the so-called “re-education camps” or “vocational education and training centers” of East Turkestan (or Xinjiang as China calls the region), stark parallels can be drawn as:
- both exploit “education” to change or shape the way a population thinks;
- both have ulterior and sinister motives;
- both are being allowed to take place without anyone so much as batting an eyelid.
The only real difference for Western and Western-aligned countries is that if such concentration camps in East Turkestan are not affecting their own populations, why should it matter? This is perhaps the most obvious reason why various governments are only now waking up and taking action to reverse years of warmly accepting Confucius Institutes, because they now realise how harmful such centres are.
When will the world feel the same about the Uyghurs and the fact that they have no choice but to be imprisoned in the so-called “re-education camps”? At least we have the freedom to choose whether we want to join a Confucius Institute; our Uyghur brothers and sisters do not have such freedoms.
It is down to us to bring the roof down and expose the Chinese government in every conceivable way. Confucius Institutes are a key problem in the continued persecution of the Uyghurs, because with the CCP allowed to control what foreign students study at its centres, it is inevitable that many areas will be airbrushed or ‘touched up’ to provide a more rosy view of the country.
Check out Part 2, where we look into China’s secret overseas “police stations” that have been set up in over five continents and are allegedly used to threaten and/ or forcibly return Chinese dissidents to the country.