In a crackdown on Chinese intervention in Australia, the government has warned that Confucius Institutes operating in the country will be brought under a new foreign influence transparency program. Confucius Institutes are funded by Hanban, a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) supported entity, and propagate the supremacy of the communist ideology over liberal democracies. They also severely restrict freedom of speech by making topics that depict the repressive nature of the Chinese regime taboo.
Communist ideological invasion
“If an entity or individual hasn’t registered and there’s a reasonable belief that their activities require registration, there’s a range of actions through the secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department which can be taken, up to and including issuing a transparency notice and potential penalties for failing to register,” Christian Porter, Attorney-General of Australia, said in a statement (The Sydney Morning Herald).
Hundreds of organizations have been contacted by the government and asked to register for the program voluntarily. Failing to do so will invite further scrutiny from officials and even legal action. The government hopes that the new law will enable authorities to monitor and track the activities of such entities that might work on behalf of foreign powers.
Intelligence agencies in Australia have started contacting universities and briefing them about potential dangers of entering into partnerships with Chinese-backed institutions, including threats to national security and academic censorship. It is estimated that there are 14 Confucius Institutes in various Australian university campuses and 67 Confucius classrooms in schools across the country.
“While the cover of the Confucius Institutes is primarily language and cultural training, they fit into a large framework of scores of other things they are doing in foreign countries, including in Australia — things like spying, which is massive and we know most of it is coming from China… When anyone wants to have any kind of public discussion [on human rights or Tibet or Taiwan], a lot of the instigators for counter-reaction to that, and the shouting down of anyone who wants to talk, come from people associated with these Confucius Institutes,” Ross Babbage, the former head of strategic analysis at the Australian Office of National Assessments, said to ABC News.
Limiting Confucius Institutes in the US
Recently, a U.S. Senate committee published a report that highlighted the dangers Confucius Institutes pose to America. It accused them of being a propaganda vehicle to export China’s censorship policies. The report suggested that the institutes should be closed across American university campuses unless they fully agree to be transparent on funding sources and operational guidelines.
“Such limitations attempt to export China’s censorship of political debate and prevent discussion of potentially politically sensitive topics… Indeed, U.S. school officials told the subcommittee that Confucius Institutes were not the place to discuss controversial topics… As one U.S. school administrator explained to the subcommittee, when something is ‘funded by the Chinese government, you know what you’re getting,’” the report stated (University World News).
If the institutes are not shut down, the committee asks that the teachers who are hired be registered as “foreign agents.” Over 90 American universities are known to currently host Confucius Institutes on their campuses. Almost US$158 million has been channeled to such universities since 2016.