Review to target Confucius Institute deals

Review to target Confucius Institute deals

Tom Mcilroy – The Australian Financial Review – Friday 28 August 2020

Scott Morrison’s move to torpedo agreements signed between foreign powers and state governments could see the end of two Confucius Institute deals with Australian universities.

Confucius deals involving the University of Queensland and the University of Adelaide were included on the federal government’s hit list of state and territory deals which could be torn up if new national powers pass federal Parliament.

Released this week, the list of agreements subject to a new review or termination by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade includes UQ’s agreement with the Confucius Institute at its headquarters in China, signed in 2019.

The University of Adelaide’s memorandum of understanding with the Australia China Development Company also faces scrutiny. It is designed “to promote a greater understanding of South Australia’s relationship with China”.

The Chinese-government funded cultural and language centres operate on 13 Australian university campuses.

Critics say the deals help Hanban, an organisation connected to China’s education ministry, to acquire influence and even control over Chinese language and cultural education.

This week it was revealed the Attorney-General’s Department had demanded information from Sydney University over its Confucius Institute, asking why it shouldn’t be included on the federal foreign influence register, the first action of its kind against a university body.

Politicians as diverse as Queensland independent Bob Katter and Greens education spokeswoman Mehreen Faruqi have hit out at the Confucius deals.

Mr Katter this week wrote to the Prime Minister, calling for Australia to follow the Trump Administration in designating them as foreign missions of the Chinese government.

“You are not helping the people of China by sucking up to the oppressive, totalitarian Chinese Communist Party and allowing them to spread their tentacles,” he said.

“Scott Morrison must declare the Confucius institutes in Australia as a political propaganda wing of the oppressive, dictatorial regime that is the Chinese Communist Party. You help the people of China by standing up to it.”

Leading China watcher and University of Sydney sociology Professor Salvatore Babones predicted the institutes were “on their way out” at Australian universities, using an essay in the journal Foreign Policy to warn the institutes aimed to influence university administrators.

The Coalition’s crackdown comes amid worsening relations with China and follows growing concern within Australia’s national security apparatus about Beijing using access to universities and secondary tiers of government to gain influence.

The list of more than 130 agreements signed with foreign partners was dominated by China. It had signed 48 such deals, including a 2018 agreement between Victoria and the controversial Belt and Road Initiative.

Liberal senator and China hawke James Paterson said on Thursday the Confucius deals were “unquestionably a propaganda tool for the Chinese Communist Party abroad”.

“So, yes, they should face some very tough scrutiny under these arrangements,” he said.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Frances Adamson used the University of Adelaide’s Confucius Institute annual lecture to make a set-piece 2017 speech on China-Australian relations.

The institute offers a series of China-specific briefings and public lectures on topics including developments in China’s political, economic and cultural landscapes.

She praised the institute and quoted Confucius, China’s most famous philosopher and political theorist, born in the sixth century BC.

China’s deputy head of mission to Australia, Wang Xining, this week said the Confucius Institute was “aimed at language and cultural exchange”.

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