NSW is 'reviewing' its relationship with China's controversial Confucius Institute over fears of covert foreign influence

VCG/VCG via Getty Images)
  • The education department of New South Wales is “reviewing” its relationship with the Confucius Institute and Confucius Classrooms.
  • These are run out of China’s education ministry, and Beijing openly describes them as a vehicle for soft power and propaganda.
  • Experts are also concerned at how closely connected the Confucius programs are to the Chinese Communist Party’s secretive influence arm, the United Front.
  • Several US universities have already cut ties with Confucius Institutes because of worries over propaganda and influence campaigns.

An Australian state government is currently “reviewing” its relationship with China’s controversial Confucius Institutes.

Confucius Institutes in universities and their counterpart in primary and high schools, Confucius Classrooms, aim to teach and promote Chinese language and culture.

There are more than 1,500 institutes and classrooms across the world, but by China’s own admission these organisations are a part of the country’s propaganda initiatives.

And now New South Wales wants to reassess how they work.

A spokesman for Rob Stokes, the state’s education minister, told Australia’s ABC on Tuesday that the relationship “is currently under review to ensure that there are no inappropriate influences from foreign powers,”

The spokesman confirmed trips by school principals to China, funded by Beijing and used to promote the use of Confucius Classrooms, have been postponed in light of the review, but did not disclose any further details.

New South Wales’s education department was the first in the world to have its own Confucius Institute. There are Confucius Classrooms in at least 13 public schools in the state, potentially more in private schools.

The program’s curricula, staffing, and budgets are largely controlled by China’s education ministry, which also “examines and approves” strategies and annual reports from each institute.

In New South Wales, Hanban paid $US150,000 to create a Confucius Institute within the NSW education department. it also funds teaching assistants for schools, and provides $US10,000 for each new Confucius Classroom.

No other government pays for foreign language courses in New South Wales schools.

The programs may be used for covert influence operations

Confucius Classroom AustraliaRob Griffith – Pool/Getty ImagesChinese President Xi Jinping’s wife Madame Peng Liyuan poses for a photo with students at Ravenswood School for Girls, which runs Confucius Classroom, on November 19, 2014 in Sydney, Australia.

John Garnaut, a former adviser on China to Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, told the US House Armed Services Committee in March these education programs fill a “great black hole.”

He said this was needed because countries like the US and Australia have failed to provide quality Chinese language and politics education.

Garnaut added: “What they do is partly propaganda, but even more importantly is their connection to the United Front’s Work Department system and that is they can potentially be used, and we need to stop them being used, as a platform for influencing decision-making in universities.”

United Front is the Chinese Communist Party’s secretive arm that tries to promote the party’s policies overseas and.

Several US universities have cut ties to Confucius Institutes

Penn State, the University of Chicago, Stockholm University, and Lyon University have all been so concerned about Chinese propaganda and influence they have closed their Confucius Institutes in recent years. Texas A&M made the same decision last month.

This has yet to happen in Australia, where the federal government has been particularly focused on countering China’s influence operations.

Last year it introduced a bill to outlawing foreign interference and political donations and just this week Hillary Clinton warned China’s interference in Australia and New Zealand needs to be taken seriously.

In the US, three legislators have introduced the Foreign Influence Transparency Act, which would require Confucius Institutes to register as foreign agents.

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