Confucius Institutes – Soft or Hard Power?
A little more than a decade ago China began imitating the United States, Britain, France and Germany by engaging in what Joseph Nye, termed “soft power,” a collection of methods used to extend a country’s influence on the world stage.
One example of Chinese “soft power” was the creation of hundreds of Confucius Institutes worldwide. Funding was available to Chinese language, history and culture. The first Confucius Institute opened in South Korea in 2004 and quickly spread to Japan, Australia, Canada and Europe. Today there are more than 100 Confucius Institutes at public and private universities in the United States and more than that number at American high schools. Writers of an article in “The Economist” estimate that the Chinese government spends $10 billion a year to promote its image abroad.
The Chinese government has made ample use of financial incentives to encourage the acceptance of Confucius Institutes on campuses worldwide. China pays $100,000 to each college or university that agrees to sponsor a Confucius Institute on their campus and annual payments are made over a five-year period. There appears to be a link between those schools with Institutes and full-paying Chinese students.
The Communist Party of China has made no secret that it considers Confucius Institutes a propaganda arm for the government. Chinese minister of propaganda, Liu Yunshan, in an article in “People’s Daily” wrote: “We want to coordinate the efforts of overseas and domestic propaganda and further create a favorable international environment for us.” Official Chinese positions on Tiananmen Square, Taiwan, human rights and Tibet are part of the information disseminated through the Institutes.
It is no accident that the ruling body of the Office of Chinese Language International, a branch of the Ministry of Education, coordinates all of the Institutes’ programs.
Within the past few years there has been pushback from several colleges and universities with regard to Confucius Institutes. In 2014, for example, more than 100 University of Chicago faculty members signed a petition portraying the information from Confucius Institute on their campus to contradict the university’s core academic values. The university did not renew its Confucius Institute contract. Neither did McMaster University in Canada renew its contract. Other universities followed suite, including, Pennsylvania State, Stockholm University, and the University of Lyon. But other schools in the United States continue to support their Confucius Institutes including, George Washington University, Tufts University, Portland State University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Still the controversy continues. In February 2018 Florida Senator Marco Rubio asked Miami Dade College and universities in North, South and West Florida, to shut down their Confucius programs. Along with many other U.S. government officials, Senator Rubio considers the Institutes a threat to America’s national security by institutionalizing Chinese propaganda on American colleges and universities. The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation also raised concerns about Chinese infiltration on American college campuses.
The Chinese government, quick to recognize a problem, has promised reforms.
Are Confucius Institutes an example of soft power becoming hard power? Or are Confucius programs just one piece of China’s plan to be recognized as a major player on the world’s stage?
Even this blogger, who clearly enjoys researching and writing articles about international students and trends in international student mobility, needs a vacation. There will be no blog postings in August. But I will come roaring back in September with new information and worldwide fall enrollment reports.