‘Put an end to partnership with Confucius Institute’
The students are worried that the Groningen institute threatens the freedom of students and staff and endangers the Groningen academic community’s independence.
The CIG, a partnership between the Hanze University of Applied Sciences, UG, city of Groningen, and the Communication University China in Beijing, officially falls under the Office of Chinese Language Council International (OCLCI), a Chinese non-profit organisation that claims to be non-governmental. The Office mainly focuses on spreading the Chines language and culture outside of China, which is also the CIG’s main objective.
‘On paper, the institute appears to be independent’, says Elyse (25), a student from Hong Kong and one of the petition’s initiators. ‘But the OCLCI falls under the Chinese ministry of education. That means it essentially falls under the Chinese government and is governed by the Chinese Communist Party.’
The students and De Vrije Student (DVS) say it’s evident that the Chinese government is meddling in CIG affairs from the fact that the institute is only allowed to use textbooks that have been approved by Chinese authorities, which they say leads to censorship.
The initiators also say the CIG contributes to self-censorship among students; in one example, they were banned from hanging posters concerning the human rights violations in Hong Kong.
‘Academic freedom has to be a priority at the university. But an active relationship with parties like these hinders that’, says DVS faction chair David Jan Meijer. ‘Especially now that the Chinese Communist Party has said that this institute is its most important propaganda tool in the West.’
The institute in Groningen denies the accusations. They never contacted students about the posters in Hong Kong, they say. It’s also untrue that the teaching materials are approved by China. ‘Our team decides which materials we use.’
Groningen and Maastricht are the only two cities that still have a Confucius Institute. The CI in Leiden shut down when the University of Leiden ended its partnership in February of 2019.
In December that same year, the Vrije Universiteit Brussels ended its partnership with their CI, after Belgian authorities suspected its director of spying for the Chinese government. The director was banned from the Schengen Area for eight years.
Also in December 2019, the Swedish government shut down four out of five Chinese Institutes in the country, fearing undue influence on Swedish universities by the Chinese government. The remaining CI was shut down in early 2020, severing all ties between the Institute and Swedish universities.
Thirty universities in the United States also ended their partnerships after the FBI investigated the CI in connection with espionage.
The petition’s writers say the UG should take the signs of espionage and censorship from around the world seriously. While the contract between the UG and the CI was silently extended by five years last autumn, Meijer says it can be broken prematurely.
The partnership with China and the CI is on the agenda for the university council meeting in March. The initiators want to present their petition to the UG’s board of directors before that. ‘I also expect a lengthy and substantive, serious discussion about this issue in March’, says Meijer.
In January 2019, a letter containing a white powder was delivered to the Confucius Institute at the Oude Boteringestraat 42 in Groningen. The street was blocked by the police and a bomb disposal unit examined the envelope. The substance inside turned out to be harmless.
The anthrax hoax was probably connected to an episode on the Institute by television programme Medialogica. The documentary suggested that the Chinese government is using the institute to try to influence our image of and policy towards China.