The Scottish Greens' manifesto plans to end ties with the controversial Confucius Institute over ties to the Chinese Communist Party.
The Scottish Green party has become the first major UK party to call for the termination of Confucius partnerships in schools and universities, adding to the renewed global criticism of the programme.
The mission of the programme is to promote chinese language and culture abroad with the intent of bolstering soft power as part with wider foreign policy and trade goals. Currently in Scotland there are 14 schools part of the Confucius classroom initiative and 4 separate institutes on university campuses, one of which is hosted at the University of Glasgow. Scotland has the highest number of institutes per capita in the world.
The programme has been criticised both at home and abroad. In the United States 75 Colleges have already removed the institutes from their campuses, a move reciprocated across Europe and Australia. However, the move has not been made broadly throughout the UK, despite the 2019 report by the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, which concluded in a review of the programme that; “as currently constituted, [the institute] threatens academic freedom and freedom of expression in universities around the world and represent an endeavour by the Chinese Communist Party to spread its propaganda and suppress its critics beyond its borders." The Scottish Greens also pledge to review the impact of academic freedom on the university sector.
Scottish Greens education spokesperson Ross Greer said: “While other countries have quickly grown to appreciate the sinister influence exerted by the Chinese regime through the Confucius Programme, Scotland has shown a dreadful naivety. Not only do Confucius Institutes exist across a number of our universities, they have been welcomed into our schools with a frequency I am unaware of in any other democratic nation.
One of the criticism’s, that has led to global condemnation of the institutes is the accusation of it working as a party mouthpiece for the CCP. The programme is also criticised for its assimilation with the Chinese Communist Party, with the current head of Hanban (the home of the Confucius programmes) Liu Yangdong also a member of the Politburo. In addition, the funding for the project is also a point of contention as it is said to come directly from the Chinese government; freedom of information requests by FreeTibet, an activist group, revealed that Lothian council received in excess of £68,000 between 2008 and 2018 from the Chinese government for the funding of their Confucius classrooms.
The policy has not been made without controversey as many opposing the manifesto point argue the policy is based on Asian discrimination. Further, the institute insists that it's mission is simply building cross cultural exchanges through language education. As a spokesperson for the Glasgow based Confucius Institute stated: "The work of the Confucius Institute focuses on the teaching of Chinese language and culture...In addition to the general benefits involved in understanding a foreign language, China's current position on the world stage suggests Chinese language will be an important skill to have in the decades to come."
A Glasgow University spokesperson similarly defended the programme and argued they take academic freedom seriously stating: "The University believes that providing opportunities for our students to share and learn about cultures and languages from across the world not only enriches their academic experience, but allows them to better understand cultural differences between societies...However, the University’s academic independence is of the utmost importance and the University of Glasgow is a place where debate and discussion of ideas should happen as a matter of course. We will always endeavour to ensure our international academic partnerships are based on this principle and the protection of all staff and students in their right to academic freedom are at the very heart of our mission.”
When asked about the accusations of Asian discrimination Mr. Greer asserted: “The Scottish Greens put forward these proposals in defence of academic freedom and human rights, particularly those of Chinese citizens living under the regime. We hope other parties will show a similar commitment.”
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