By Yang Chung-hsin 楊宗新
After the US Department of State in August labeled the Confucius Institutes, which China has been actively promoting around the world, as “foreign missions,” US Secretary of State Mike early last month said that he hoped all these institutes on US campuses would be closed by the end of the year.
This policy is gradually influencing the US and other Western countries.
In the US, four schools — the University of Denver, the University of Oklahoma, the University of North Carolina and Emory University — have announced that they would follow the government’s policy and close the Confucius Institutes on their campuses.
Many universities in Germany, including the University of Hamburg, have already stated that they would close their on-campus Confucius Institutes, and the German opposition Free Democratic Party is drafting a bill that would require all universities to terminate their collaborations with the institutes.
The Australian government has begun investigations into the sources and uses of funds for the institutes.
There has always been opposition to the establishment of Confucius Institutes on university campuses in the West.
Many objected to the institutes because: their textbooks and teachers need to be reviewed and approved by the Chinese Ministry of Education, which is a breach of academic freedom; they often try to intervene in other academic activities on campus; they monitor overseas Chinese students on behalf of Beijing; steal academic research; try to bribe university administrators to avoid scrutiny; and conduct propaganda for the Chinese government.
Given the scale of controversy surrounding the Confucius Institutes, why has the US government only now started regulating them? The main reason is that, with China’s rise, demand for Chinese learning has soared in Western countries.
Unable to compete with the institutes, which are heavily funded by the Chinese government, many university or privately funded Chinese teaching institutes closed down.
In 2011, Taiwan set up the Taiwan Academy system to offer Chinese courses at its representative offices in New York, Los Angeles and Houston. However, it was difficult to compete with the Confucius Institutes, which dominated the market.
If US President Donald Trump is re-elected next month, the White House is expected to continue its policy of curbing the Confucius Institute’s monopoly of the market.
If Beijing does not stop its political interference through the institutes, which are supposed to be academic institutions aimed at promoting culture, a complete shutdown of these institutes is possible.
When that time comes, there would be urgent demand for other players to fill the need for Chinese-language and culture programs.
If Taiwan could anticipate this and make adequate preparations, it could corner the market.
By promoting policies that cater to the demand for the teaching of Chinese, the government could create job opportunities for young, unemployed teachers by training them to be teachers of Chinese as a foreign language.
Through this expansion of soft power, Taiwan could also increase its visibility in the international community and substantially enhance its relationship with other countries. This is truly a chance not to be missed.
Yang Chung-hsin is a researcher of China affairs.
Translated by Lin Lee-kai
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