MSP adds voice to Scottish concerns over Confucius Institutes

Herald Scotland | January 8, 2015

An MSP has added his voice to growing concern about Scotland’s network of Confucius Institutes.

Conservative Alex Johnstone said he feared the language schools amounted to “infrastructure” to promote Beijing views on issues like occupied Tibet.

Mr Johnstone, who chairs Holyrood’s cross-party group on Japan and has a long-standing interest in the Far East, was speaking after Stockholm University became the latest western institution to sever ties with the Institute over concerns about academic freedom.

Human rights groups linked to the Tibet cause have already urged Scotland to follow suit, as revealed by The Herald early this year.

Photo: Herald Scotland
Photo: Herald Scotland

This followed admissions by the leader of the worldwide network of institutes that its teachers that teachers were expected to toe the Communist Party line on issues such as Taiwan, which China regards as part of its state.

Mr Johnstone said: “There is nothing wrong with promoting China’s culture or interests in Scotland.

“However, I am worried that an infrastructure is developing in Scotland to promote the Chinese government’s interests to the exclusion of other things.

“Scottish politicians need to think seriously about what is going on at Confucius Institutes and what we need to do to so things don’t go in the wrong direction.”

Four Scottish Universities have Confucius Institutes to provide CHinese teaching to their students. Strathclyde also hosts a special institution to promote Chinese in schools.

Linda Fabiani, the Nationalist MSP who chairs the Scottish Parliament’s group on Tibet, said she expected Confucius Institutes to be raised when it meets next week.

“Concerns about Confucius Institutes at Universities in Scotland and beyond have been raised at the group from time to time,” she said.

Edinburgh University – which hosts Scotland’s oldest Confucius Institute, has defended its arrangements.

Many Scottish politicians firmly believe in the need to expand teaching of Chinese in Scotland. They include Graeme Pearson, who chairs the Holyrood China group. He said: “I believe those in our Universities and educational establishments responsible for overseeing the Confucius centres are well placed to guard against any interference in the exercise of the freedoms we expect of those across our academic community.

“There have been no concerns raised as far as I know in this regard in Scotland.”

The Chinese Government, which has invested billions in its network of Confucius Institutes, has suggested Sinophobia lies behind complaints. Bodies representing academics in both Canada and the US have condemned the institutes.



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