Glasgow University should boycott the Confucius Institute

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Melanie Goldberg

Following the boycott of Israel, the SRC should also boycott the Confucius Institute on campus.

For years, the Chinese Communist party (CCP) and it’s president, Xi Jinping, have evaded condemnation for many crimes against their own citizens. Mass surveillance and illegal detainment of dissidents are a few weapons within the wide arsenal of tactics used to suppress criticism and enable their autocratic regime. Strong political, economic, and academic ties are also used to empower the government and silence international critics. It is time to hold the Chinese government to account and amplify the voices of those who are being persecuted.

Religious, racial, and ethnic persecution is a real and existential threat to minorities in China and will continue if nobody speaks up against them. One such group are the Kaifeng Jews, who have resided in China for over a millennium and currently number approximately 2,000, a small but historic community. In recent times they have faced systematic persecution by the government, who have shut the community’s only synagogue and prohibited any public Jewish activity. Despite such a long-established community being under threat, the persecution of the Kaifeng Jews remains undiscussed within activist and human rights groups and is in danger of further persecution.

More recognised and more severe is the oppression of the Uyghur Muslims in the Xian Jing region. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Uyghur Muslims are experiencing extreme levels of persecution; it is estimated that approximately 1 million Muslims are being detained in so-called “re-education” camps whilst checkpoints around the province monitor each and every citizen as mass surveillance is implemented. China claims that these camps are voluntary, however, numerous testimonials prove otherwise. Detainees speak of their experience in the camps; of not being permitted to practice their religion, of being forced to eat pork, and of requirements to speak only in Chinese and learn only of Chinese culture. If detainees refuse, they are kept longer against their will. They are also not permitted to have any outside contact with family members, who often do not know of their whereabouts and condition. HRW found that even when captives are permitted to return to their families, they continue to reside under close surveillance by the government.

Moreover, the CCP has used the pandemic to their advantage; there have been further crackdowns in Hong Kong, with threats from China over revocation of special freedoms that were previously granted by the “Basic Law”, when Hong Kong became independent of the British in 1997. How must students at the university feel about their lack of condemnation over the suppression of basic human rights? 2019 saw mass protests over a controversial law that would allow detainment and transfer of citizens of Hong Kong to mainland China for criminal trials as they so wished. Although the law was revoked, tensions between China and the semi-autonomous region have since been high, more than usual. Their fraught relationship has again been tested by these recent events and once again Hong Kong citizens are under threat from a new security law that prohibits criticism of the Chinese government and their basic human rights are hanging by a thread.

The CCP continues to carry out these crimes without obstruction, mainly through their international ties. There are various ways in which the government have partnerships, one of which is on our very own University campus; the Confucius Institute. Confucius Institutes are government-run education centres that run Chinese culture and language courses. Whilst there are many positive aspects of sharing and learning about the culture of others, these institutes, in particular, have faced criticism for their management by the government and many have been shut because of this. According to the constitution, all learning materials are provided by the governing institute in Beijing, and therefore have to abide by government censorship laws.

Even in regards to widely available information, much of what occurs in China is systematically ignored, and there is a level of hypocrisy in the actions of those who condemn many other states but refuse to acknowledge the issues instigated by the CCP. Last April, the Students Representative Council (SRC) approved the implementation of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which calls for an economic, academic, and cultural boycott of Israel. By this rule, shouldn’t the SRC boycott the government-funded Confucius Institute, who in fact both share a building on campus? The hypocrisy of a boycott of only one country, but not others, is not wasted on the student populace. Where was the boycott of the Winter University Games, which were held in Russia? And where is the boycott of a CCP funded body on our campus?

Those under persecution by the CCP deserve our support. They deserve recognition of their plights and for the world to speak up. The Uyghurs, Tibetans, citizens of Hong Kong and others at threat deserve to live free of persecution. The University’s connection to the Chinese government signifies that they must condemn the actions of their partners, otherwise, they hold a level of complicity, especially in regards to students at the University who are affected by these issues. We need to be on the right side of history and wholly condemn these crimes being systematically committed.


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