Editorial: End schools deal with China

Posted on January 31, 2019 in In the News

McNally school students perform a Dragon dance during the opening ceremony for the Confucius Institute in Edmonton, at the Alberta School for the Deaf. File photo. EDMONTON SUN PHOTO BY DAVID BLOOM

If there is a takeaway from the nasty dispute with China which Canada finds itself embroiled, it’s that a police state plays by vastly different rules.

It’s a lesson that should inform Edmonton Public Schools in its dealings with the Confucius Institute, a Chinese-government supported culture and language program.

To bully Canada into releasing Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, China has shown its true face by holding two Canadians hostage in inhumane conditions, arbitrarily sentencing another to death and belittling our rule-of-law democracy as a U.S. pawn, and a racist one at that, for nothing more than dutifully fulfilling the obligations of an extradition treaty.

Those draconian reprisals drive home the fact that China is a totalitarian regime whose human rights abuses include locking up more than more than one million Uighur Muslims in “re-education” camps.

Only when China turned its antidemocratic tactics on Canada, did it finally shatter the Trudeau government’s illusory aspirations of closer trade ties. At least, the dispute comes before Canada has decided on potentially allowing Huawei, widely suspected of being a state-controlled enterprise, to help develop a Canadian 5G cellular network.

Unfortunately, the current tensions with China came too late to similarly chasten Edmonton Public Schools in renewing its troubling relationship with the Confucius Institute.

In October, the public school district signed a five-year deal to continue a decade-long partnership with the institute, which has ties to the Chinese government. Fortunately, the contract says either party can terminate with six-months notice.

The district must follow the lead of other North American universities and school districts and walk away. Those educational bodies see the institute as an example of China exerting “soft power,” a means to boost its image and influence inside other countries. Some universities even fear espionage.

No amount of extra funding, resources or paid trips to China for officials and trustees that the deal might offer should be enough to allow a foreign government undue access to the education of students. That’s especially the case when it’s a one-party state whose values are at odds with ours and one now so openly hostile to Canada.

Ending the agreement with an instrument of the Chinese government would register as a protest against China’s human rights record, suppression of free speech and arbitrary mistreatment of Canadians.

Walking away would not deprive students. Edmonton public’s Mandarin bilingual initiative began in the early 1980s. It was already a highly successful and popular program when public school leaders decided in 2007 that hosting a Confucius Institute would enhance it. It’s time to reverse that decision.

Local editorials are the consensus opinion of the Journal’s editorial board, comprising Mark Iype, Dave Breakenridge, Sarah O’Donnell and Bill Mah.