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CI headquarters overseas dismissed smearing from the US

作者:admin 2020-11-04

CI headquarters overseas dismissed smearing from the US

Confucius Institute twin alumni Sofia Mucunabitu and Loraini Mucunabitu sing the song "Go on" in a Fiji-China friendship singing competition in Suva, Fiji, Oct. 28, 2020. The Fiji-China friendship singing competition was held successfully in the Fijian capital of Suva on Wedensday to mark the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Fiji. Jointly organized by the Chinese Embassy to Fiji and the Confucius Institute at the University of the South Pacific (CI-USP) in Fiji, the singing competition attracted 18 contestants who are students from the Chinese credit class of the CI-USP and the social class of the CI-USP. It covers Chinese learners of different ages, different majors and different nationalities. (Xinhua/Zhang Yongxing)

The Confucius Institute (CI) faced increasing pressure this year after US politicians made groundless accusations against the cultural organization and threatened to shut down its presence in the US. 

Many have worried normal cultural exchanges could be affected or disrupted in other countries as a result of US government hostility. Some universities in countries including Germany reportedly considered terminating their cooperation with the CI.

Despite smear attacks against the CI, Professor Mechthild Leutner from Free University of Berlin (FU) which hosts the first CI established in Germany told the Global Times she really regrets this new tendency in the US. She said some German media reports were just following this US tendency without having reliable information about what the CIs are doing, how they are working and how they promote cooperation. 

"These negative framing of the CI is not helpful in promoting cooperation. Especially younger students and scholars are uncertain in their opinions because there is a gap between these media reports and what they themselves experienced in China. Up to now a rational view of the CIs and support for the CIs is still dominant in Germany. I hope that this will continue in the future," she said. 

According to Leutner, the CI founded in the FU was a natural extension of the partnership between the FU and Peking University as the two universities share a long tradition of academic exchanges.

"As the demand to study Chinese increase among students, scholars and people with professional and general interest in China grew, the institute was founded in 2006," Leutner said. "We all, including the CI headquarters, had the common goal: to offer activities for FU students and members and for the Berlin public which can give solid and scholarly grounded information about China."

While US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused the CI of serving as a tool to promote the political agenda of the Communist Party of China, Leutner told the Global Times that "I cannot see how this should or would work. The CIs in Germany are legally organizations in accordance with German law. We are scholars dedicated to do research on China with different topics, different standpoints - that is the academic aspect." If there is any agenda, it is a societal agenda of China scholars or area studies scholars in general "to serve as bridges between two cultures and two societies."

"The debate on the CIs is to be seen as part of the US-initiated Cold War framing against China, which is harmful for the people in the whole world. We need a peaceful multilateral world and cooperation of all countries," she said.

Professor Thomas Heberer from Duisburg-Essen University in Germany, which opened the CI in 2009, told the Global Times the CI in Germany may differ from those in other countries as each institute has its own specific focus. 

"The impulse for establishing our institute came from the then mayor of the city of Duisburg who approached the rector of the university suggesting to establishing such an institute. The reasons were that Duisburg is home of the oldest partnership of a German and Chinese city (Wuhan), which has been established in 1982," he said. "The major reasons were to support Duisburg's China activities and to provide advice to the city government, to enhance the university's exchange with China and to offer language courses and specifically knowledge about China to the public."

According to Heberer, the CI in his university serves the entire Ruhr area - Europe's largest industrial region with more than 5 million inhabitants.

He noted that the cooperation with China in CI is a very "harmonious" interrelationship and they received a lot of support from the CI headquarters.

"The CI plays a major role in promoting the understanding of China and its developments, German-Chinese communication processes and fostering people-to-people exchange," he said.

He slammed accusations made by those US politicians as"completely incorrect."

 "The programs of the various German institutes which as a rule are affiliated to a university and led by an independent non-commercial association are as a rule prepared and organized by the executive board of the institute and decided on by the members of its association. We never encountered any interference or influence by Chinese authorities let alone by the Communist Party of China," he said.

But he admitted there is strong pressure by some German media and journalists claiming the CIs are instruments of the propaganda department of the CPC, making propaganda for the Chinese government. 

"Some universities are worried about these media reports and feel a kind of pressure. But we do not have this problem in Duisburg, since our university leadership is well informed about our work and knows that we are working in a very differentiated manner and are not 'propagandists' but serious scholars," he said.

For Zhou Weisheng who once was the principal of the oldest CI in Japan, the CIs are actually public goods that promote cultural diversity.

While the CI faces criticism of seeking "cultural expansion" for China, Zhou said the official procedure of establishing the CI makes it clear the application should be voluntarily submitted by the foreign side while the Chinese counterpart should express their willingness to conduct cooperation before both sides sign a cooperation agreement on the basis of full consultation.

"The Confucius Institute also stipulates that the operation should be jointly operated by both foreign and Chinese partners, rather than independently operated by the Chinese side. Funds and teachers are also jointly managed by Chinese and foreign parties," he shared. 

Zhou listed some of CI's key characteristics, including being non-zero sum game, non-exclusive, non-competitive and mutual beneficial.

He said there is no need to pay too much attention to the US smear campaign. "The most important thing is to focus on doing what should be done," he said.

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