The new UK government is ready to enact a ban on the presence of Confucius Institutes in British universities. According to the newspaper "The Telegraph", according to which this measure would serve to honor one of the promises made by the new premier Rishi Sunak during the electoral campaign for the leadership of the Conservative Party last summer. On that occasion, Sunak had stated that he would close the 30 Chinese cultural institutes, calling China "the greatest threat to the United Kingdom and the security and prosperity of the world in this century". These institutes, which are based in several universities across the UK, were set up to offer culture and language courses to international students but are also believed by the Chinese Communist Party's intelligence services to crack down on critical views on Beijing. Before her resignation, according to the “Telegraph”, former premier Liz Truss had also warned conservative parliamentarians that he had ordered the preparation of a law banning the presence of such institutions in British universities. With that measure, if confirmed, "Rishi Sunak has put himself in a corner where he will have to show that he is more energetic about China," said Robert Clark, director of defense and security at the Civitas study center. "He will send a strong message that we will no longer allow hostile Chinese operations and interference in British society and higher education."
Confucius Institutes have been banned in other European countries, such as Sweden, while in the United States public funding has been limited to all universities that host one. The British government, therefore, could decide to ban institutions through amendments to bills that will have to go through parliament, including the higher education (free speech) bill and the national security bill. Some MPs, however, have suggested that the London government could work with other countries with a significant number of Mandarin-speaking citizens - Taiwan for example - to develop new language and cultural programs. During the leadership campaign, Sunak also pledged to resist what he called China's "tech offensive" by proposing a change to the higher education bill to force UK universities to disclose any foreign funding partnerships. with payments exceeding 50 thousand pounds (approximately 57 thousand euros). Furthermore, Sunak had pledged to review all research partnerships between the United Kingdom and China that risk being exploited by Beijing for its own technological development or to convert them into military applications.
Some academics, however, have spoken out against this stance, claiming that officially labeling China as "a threat" will provoke retaliation. According to Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at London's Soas University, told the Telegraph last week that it would be "unwise for the UK government to formally declare China a threat, as it will unleash some form of retaliation." by the ultra-nationalist government of Xi Jinping ”. According to research by the Henry Jackson Society, the political views of Confucius Institutes staff in the UK are "filtered" by Chinese officials. Furthermore, according to the study center's survey, only four of the 30 Confucius Institutes in the United Kingdom provide exclusively "cultural and linguistic" education, while the majority carry out other activities in parallel, which in some cases include political lobbying and in others facilitation. of technological partnerships. The Chinese Embassy in London has always defended the work of the institutes, stating that "educational exchanges between China and the United Kingdom" should be viewed "in an objective and sensible way" and "the enormous public interest in learning more about the language and Chinese culture ”should be“ respected and recognized ”.
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