Statement: Don’t Close Confucius Institutes in Britain – Defend Academic Freedom and Cultural Exchanges

No Cold War (Britain) has issued the following statement urging the British government to abandon its plans to shut down Confucius Institutes.

The British government is threatening to close down Confucius Institutes on university campuses across the UK in what would be a flagrant attack on academic freedom, cultural exchanges and free speech. The British people stand to lose important educational opportunities to learn about Chinese culture and acquire language skills if the government proceeds with its plans to shut down these Institutes at the behest of a New Cold War agenda promoted by the United States government.

Confucius Institutes are public educational and cultural programs funded and arranged by the Chinese International Education Foundation which is under the authority of the People’s Republic of China’s Ministry of Education. There are hundreds of Institutes worldwide which the Chinese government spends approximately $10billion a year on.

Confucius Institutes play a similar role to other international organisations which promote language skills and cultural exchanges on behalf of countries. These include Britain’s British Council, Portugal’s Instituto Camões, France’s Alliance Française, Italy’s Società Dante Alighieri, Spain’s Instituto Cervantes and Germany’s Goethe-Institut.

The British government justifies its threat to close down Confucius Institutes on the grounds that these programs promote a positive image of China, forming part of China’s “external propaganda”, and therefore constitute a threat to British society and university life. This is clearly absurd.

The British Council in under-taking programs to promote cultural relations and educational opportunities across the world performs an ambassadorial role in favourably promoting Britain internationally. It is hardly controversial or surprising that China’s Confucius Institutes promote China’s culture and language in a positive light internationally too.

The suppression of Confucius Institutes is part of the US’s New Cold War agenda. In the past two years Confucius Institutes have been shut down in the US, reducing the number from 100 to only 20.

Closing down Confucius Institutes in Britain would not only be a direct attack on academic freedom, it would also be a dangerous move. At a time when the British government is intent on pursuing a bellicose foreign policy towards China, including the sending of British warships to the South China Sea and the establishment of the AUKUS military pact directed against China, it is vital to maintain dialogue and an understanding of China’s view of the world – a role that Confucius Institutes clearly play. To shut down such opportunities for exchanges can lead to serious misunderstandings and could lead to catastrophic miscalculations. Understanding, engaging with and learning from China, as with other countries, is vital in the current international political climate. We urge the British government to abandon its self-defeating plan to close down Confucius Institutes which can only damage education and cultural opportunities and lead to greater misunderstanding and hostility in international relations.