US senator challenges Florida schools with Confucius Institutes to discuss Tiananmen massacre, Liu Xiaobo

Posted on May 11, 2018 in In the News

Marco Rubio. Photo: Gage Skidmore, via Flickr.

US Senator Marco Rubio has challenged three Florida universities that have agreements with Confucius Institutes to hold open discussions on topics deemed sensitive by China, such as the 1989 Tienanmen Square massacre and Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo.

“In addition to national security concerns, there remains the very real threat of censorship and self-censorship that any Confucius Institute brings,” Rubio said in a letter to the schools on Tuesday.

Confucius Institutes aim to promote Chinese culture internationally, with their teachers and teaching materials paid for by the Chinese government. But there are concerns about the institutes’ adverse impact on their partner schools in terms of academic freedom.

“Sensitive topics like Tienanmen, Tibet and Taiwan are off limits at Confucius Institutes or, if discussed, hew to the Chinese Government and Communist Party line,” Rubio said in the letter.

He cited a 2017 report by the National Association of Scholars, which asked Confucius Institute teachers and directors what they would say when asked by students about Tienanmen Square. Several respondents said they would mention “the Square’s historic architecture,” as opposed to China’s suppression of pro-democracy protesters in 1989.

The senator went on to challenge the schools – Miami Dade College, the University of North Florida and the University of South Florida – to hold open discussions on June 4 and July 13, which mark the anniversaries of the Tienanmen massacre and the death of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo respectively.

“These are not simply hypotheticals [sic] scenarios, but rather are challenges to you and the academic institution that you lead, and are intended to underscore your own commitment to the fundamental principles of free expression and inquiry amid growing concerns about Confucius Institutes,” he said.

It was the senator’s second letter to the schools on the matter. Rubio previously wrote to them and other schools in February.

The latter schools – the University of West Florida and the Texas A&M System – have since announced that they will terminate their contracts with Confucius Institute.

‘China’s long arm’

The US government and congress have shown growing concern about China’s activities in the country. Last December, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China held a hearing on the Chinese government’s foreign influence operations in the US.

Others have also expressed concerns at Confucius Institutes. During a senate hearing in February, FBI Director Christopher Wray said his bureau has “concerns about the Confucius Institutes” and has “developed appropriate investigative steps” in certain instances.

In June 2014, the American Association of University Professors issued a report warning that Confucius Institutes “function as an arm of the Chinese state and are allowed to ignore academic freedom.”

“Specifically, North American universities permit Confucius Institutes to advance a state agenda in the recruitment and control of academic staff, in the choice of curriculum, and in the restriction of debate,” the report said.

Three American universities – the University of Chicago, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – terminated their Confucius Institute contracts between 2014 and 2017, according to Rubio.
Author: Ellie Ng
Source: Hong Kong Free Press