(TibetanReview.net, Aug24’19) – The government of Australia’s New South Wales (NSW) state has decided to close Chinese government-sponsored language programmes in its more than a dozen public schools due to political concerns, prompting an angry reaction from Beijing on Aug 23.
The Confucius Classroom programme, run in 13 NSW schools, had been paid for by Chinese government agency Hanban, and employed teaching assistants that were vetted by the Chinese government for “good political quality” and a love of “the motherland”. Beijing uses thios arrangement with schools and universities in many countries as a soft power tool to propagate doctored versions of its history and culture while throttling any discussion of alternative views, especially those critical of its activities and policies.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the 13 Confucius Institute programmes operating in the schools had been “open, transparent and lawful” and a “win-win thing”, reported the AP Aug 23.
“But without communicating with China, the New South Wales state announced it was stopping this programme. This shows no respect to the local people and students, it is not fair and not good for our people-to-people exchange,” Geng was quoted as saying at a daily briefing.
While a NSW Department of Education review into the programme did not “discover any evidence of actual political influence being exercised”, it found there were “a number of specific factors that could give rise to the perception that the Confucius Institute is or could be facilitating inappropriate foreign influence in the department”, reported smh.com.au Aug 22.
Noting that the arrangement with the Confucius Classroom programme placed Chinese government appointees inside a NSW government department, the review was stated to explain: “Having foreign government appointees based in a government department is one thing, having appointees of a one-party state that exercises censorship in its own country working in a government department in a democratic system is another.”
The review was also stated to have flagged the number of Chinese representatives on the board of directors as a concern that could “give rise to the perception of foreign influence”, while the financial contributions from Hanban to the department, specific schools and specific senior officers was scrutinised. The report was stated to suggest that these contributions could be seen as an incentive for schools or officials to “ignore certain activities”.
One Chinese-Australian parent was stated to have likened the programme to “the infiltration of the Chinese Communist Party into the NSW public school system”. It was the only language programme in NSW schools that was funded by a foreign government.
Confucius Institute students were reported to make up 15 per cent of Chinese-language students in NSW public schools.
The NSW Department of Education would replace it with a $1.2 million programme to teach Chinese at the affected schools, which included four primary schools, and nine high schools, the report said.
The report noted that several Australian universities were tightening their agreements with the institute after the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper revealed that some signed deals explicitly stated they must comply with Beijing’s decision-making authority over teaching at the facilities.