Posted 4 марта 2021,, 09:05
Published 4 марта 2021,, 09:05
Modified 24 декабря 2022,, 22:38
Updated 24 декабря 2022,, 22:38
Juris Paiders (Latvia)
"Chinese Confucius Institutions Suspected of Espionage" - such were the headlines that appeared in news articles a couple of years ago, but in fact everyone knows about it, but it is impossible to prove. In this article, I will explain the role of these institutions as an instrument of Beijing's soft power.
The Chinese Confucius Institute is similar to the British Council, the German Goethe Institute or the French Institute - it teaches language, promotes cultural communication and offers student exchange. However, China's actions in the West have raised heightened suspicion for quite some time, and the Confucius Institutions have been viewed as cover for widespread Chinese espionage.
The network of educational and intercultural ties or the network of Chinese communist spies are increasingly being asked in the West in connection with the China Confucius Institute program, which was launched in 2004. Since then, more than 500 institutions have been opened in more than 140 countries around the world. There are 100 of these institutes in the USA with over 500 classrooms and they are considered quite popular. Students praise the interesting lectures and pleasant atmosphere. There is one such institute in Latvia, which has settled under the roof of the University of Latvia, where it complements the Asian studies program and is looking for those who want to study Chinese and study in China.
However, many Western politicians believe that China's Confucius institutions are not what they think they are. For example, Senator from Florida and former presidential candidate Marco Rubio began to oppose them several years ago, explaining that, unlike the German Goethe Institute, the British Council or the Dante Alighieri Society, Confucius institutions are infiltrating universities and campuses, which puts questioned academic freedom and the degree of political influence of the Chinese Communist Party. He said the Pentagon and most American politicians are only now opening their eyes to the real implications of these programs and how they are used, adding that they have no place in America. Rubio believes they are being used to identify students who may, intentionally or unintentionally, become agents of China's influence. “We live in a new world. A lot of things are like Hollywood. But I would not waste my time on this if it were not for reality, ”said Rubio.
I will add that not only the US is researching these institutions - Australia, the UK and other European countries are also doing this. However, university staff and students themselves most often call these suspicions unfounded: “No one has ever told me what I can or cannot say. When people ask about my experience in China, I always tell the truth!", - said the student.
In 2011, the Confucius Institute was opened in Latvia, which helps several hundred Latvian students to learn Chinese. The director of the institute and professor at the University of Latvia, Peteris Pildegovichs, said that he does not believe that these institutions exert political influence in Latvia or the United States.
Latvia is an unpopular destination for Chinese students, and there are less than a hundred of them in our educational institution. For comparison, there are about 350,000 Chinese students in the United States, while there are only 20,000 American students in China.
My experience of studying China's foreign policy suggests that Beijing is in no rush. Beijing's ultimate goal is to achieve long-term dominance not only in Asia but throughout the world. And even if in Latvia, unlike the USA, Germany, France and Russia, institutions can attract only a couple of hundred students, this does not mean that China does not have a special plan to influence public opinion in Latvia. China has become more active during the Covid-19 pandemic, buying advertisements - both physical and in various media - to inform Latvians about incidents in China and Beijing's views on global events.