While the UG is distancing itself from the Confucius Institute, it will still be paying 27,500 euros in ‘operational costs’ a year for the next three years.
The costs are included in the financial framework the university council will be discussing with the board of directors over the next few weeks. ‘The money is a contribution that all Dutch participants are making to the Confucius Institute’, says UG spokesperson Anja Hulshof.
The UG, Hanze University of Applied Sciences, and the city of Groningen are all ‘participants’ in the institute. Currently, the board presidents of both educational institutes and the city’s mayor also make up the Confucius Institute’s board.
That will soon change. According to the UG, they’ve decided to create administrative distance by having the presidents withdraw from the Confucius board. Instead, they’ll become part of the supervisory board.
The Confucius Institutes have been under fire for a while now due to their close ties to the Hanban. Officially, the Hanban is an organisation that’s focused ‘making educational resources and services for the Chinese language and culture available to the world’. But critics consider it a political extension and propaganda machine of the communist regime in Beijing.
Concerned Chinese students and university council student party De Vrije Student argued in February of last year to cut ties with the organisation altogether. According to them, the institute was too close to the Chinese government, posing a threat to academic freedom.
Research institute Clingendael issued a similar warning about Chinese interference in June of 2020. Because the Confucius Institutes are embedded within Dutch knowledge institutes, Beijing can interfere in research, which could in turn lead to researchers censoring themselves.
In February of last year, the contract under which UG professor of Chinese language and culture Oliver Moore had been hired became a topic of debate. Supposedly, it said he wasn’t allowed to damage the Chinese image. That same month, Dutch security services AIVD, MIVC, and NCTV published a report warning of possible Chinese espionage at Dutch educational institutes.
The AIVD once again included this warning in its annual report published late April of this year. The intelligence agency considers China a great risk in terms of knowledge espionage.
Former education minister Ingrid van Engelshoven said last year that the UG should distance itself from the institute to dispel concerns about potential infringement on academic freedom.
The board of directors then decided the Confucius Institute could no longer stay at the UG property at the Oude Boteringestraat. The institute has moved to a building at the Heresingel.