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German Education minister warns against Confucius Institutes

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German President Angela Merkel with Chinese President Xi Jinping in China (Photo/AFP)

By Choekyi Lhamo

DHARAMSHALA, July 20: The Germany education and research minister issued a statement earlier this month decrying the country’s dependence on Chinese state backed Confucius Institutes (CIs), in the latest turn against the controversial institutes. The minister Anja Maria-Antonia Karliczek announced an extra €5 million (£4.3 million) on July 2 to support independent expertise on China, “I do not want the Chinese government to influence our universities and our society. . . Germany must admit self-critically: in some places in the past, we have given too much space to the Confucius Institutes, for example, and have done too little ourselves to build up independent China expertise in Germany.”

The minister applauded Trier University to have suspended all activities of its own CI and hoped to forge academic collaborations “based on universal values”. The university blocked off its institute after China sanctioned various academics and think tanks in March, noting Chinese pressure to stifle any form of dissent against the Communist Party. The latest intervention echoed concerns of European Union that it lacked knowledge to understand the country it labeled a “systemic rival” in 2019.

“We want to enter this competition on an equal footing and create mutual added value. To do this, we have to ensure that our companies find enough employees from Germany who know the country, the people and the language to cooperate with China. And we must continue to enable open discourse about China in our country and, for example, prevent Beijing from having a say in events at German universities,” the statement further read.

According to reports, the University of Hamburg also cut ties with CI last year over the risk of being subject to “propaganda instrument” for their academics or students. The strong criticism of China could also be seen as one of the minor elections issues, as both her liberal and conservative opponents have pledged to make the research “independent”. The Greens party representative, who is polling second, has promised a more aggressive approach towards China over human rights violations if elected.

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