Second U.S. university cuts ties with China's Confucius Institute

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 01, 2014 2:50 PM

By Sharon Bernstein

(Reuters) - A second major U.S. university in a week is severing ties with China's government-funded Confucius Institute, which critics call a propaganda arm wrapped in culture and language education.

Pennsylvania State University said Wednesday it would end its five-year relationship with the institute at the end of this year, citing differences with the Chinese government agency that controls and funds them.

"Several of our goals are not consistent with those of the Office of Chinese Languages Council International, knowns as the Hanban, which provides support to Confucius Institutes throughout the world," Susan Welch, dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Penn State, said in an emailed statement.

On September 25, the University of Chicago also severed ties with the institute, saying a high-ranking official with the Hanban agency had told a Chinese language newspaper that the agency would prevail in ongoing negotiations with the university.

Neither university provided details of the negotiations, or what the contentious issues were.

However, professors at both the University of Chicago and Penn State had complained that the institutes were too closely tied to the Chinese government, which views them as "soft power" propaganda tools to make Chinese language and culture more accessible to students throughout the world.

The moves come amid growing protests in Hong Kong, where pro-democracy activists are occupying large areas of the city, a hub of international business that has been controlled by the mainland since 1997, when China resumed its rule of the former British colony.

The United States has nearly 500 Confucius Institutes which provide funds and offer programs to universities and public school systems, and there are hundreds more around the globe.

Professors and other critics say they fear censorship or self-censorship on such heated topics as Chinese control of Tibet and the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy activists in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

In Canada this week, some trustees of the Toronto District School Board said they would introduce a motion to cancel the rollout of a planned Confucius Institute there.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Richard Chang)