There are Confucius Institutes in China that allow students to learn about Chinese culture and language. Critics, on the other hand, argue that these initiatives are a way for Beijing to exert control in the schools where they are implemented.
Since 2006, the number of Confucius Institutes in Latin America has grown. Throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, they have a presence in 23 different nations. It’s not uncommon to see more than one on university campuses in certain nations. The Institutes teach Mandarin, sponsor summer camps in China, promote cultural events, and provide scholarships to study in China.
After two years of study at the Confucius Institute at San Francisco de Quito University in Ecuador, international relations student Anthony Trujillo is certain that he will be able to travel to China for his master’s degree.
Mandarin enrolment has increased from 40 to 300 students since the establishment of a Confucius Center on campus in 2010.
A 19-year-old computer science student stated, “We Hispanics seek for employment possibilities overseas, and while the difficulties of learning Chinese is quite a struggle, it is worth trying.
For those who are proficient in the language, the Chinese government provides the instructors with the study materials and offers the option of a scholarship in China to those who meet the requirements,” Jake Gilstrap, author of the academic paper “Confucius Institutes of China in Latin America: Tools of Soft Power,” explained.
Professors and researchers are included, he added.
The Chinese government is attempting to build a new nation, Gilstrap said in an interview with VOA “As a result of their intimate ties and cultural knowledge of China, Latin American leaders will come to perceive the world in a manner more in line with China’s. Moreover, it may overtly promote China’s foreign policy objectives.”
The head of the Andrés Bello Foundation’s China Latin American Research Center, Parsifal D’Sola, is worried about the future of academic freedom in China. Because of the expanding presence of a Chinese government-funded institution in the region’s colleges, he is concerned that material on politically sensitive themes like censorship or China’s mistreatment of the Uyghur community would suffer.
While Latin American academics are participating more in research funded by certain Chinese government groups, “we will see less criticism inside the institutions, which is something that advantages China in its worldwide image,” D’Sola said in an interview with VOA.
An annual Human Rights Watch report on China’s risks to academic freedoms beyond its boundaries said that Chinese government authorities have tried in the past to influence academic discourse, monitor abroad students from China, or otherwise interfere with academic freedom.
“Confucius Institutes are extensions of the Chinese government that suppress some themes and views in course materials on political grounds, and utilize recruiting methods that take political allegiance into account,” the study said.
Confucius Institutes are distinct from other language and cultural programs, such as the Alliance Française or the British Institute, in that they operate outside of institutions, Gilstrap added.
As a spokeswoman for the State Department informed VOA, the institutions have close links to the Central Committee’s United Front Work Department, which collects information on individuals and groups both inside China and abroad.
At a time when Li Changchun was in charge of China’s ideology, he referred to these institutions as “an essential aspect of China’s foreign propaganda infrastructure.”
The Confucius Institutes were established in 2004 in Beijing. More than a decade later, the government-funded effort has spread to 162 nations, including more than 500 institutions and more than 1,000 classrooms.
Over the following three years, China will build further Confucius Institutes, provide “5,000 government scholarships and 3,000 training spaces” to the nations of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, as part of a cooperative action plan agreed upon in December.
Chinese Embassy in Washington, DC responded to VOA’s concerns by saying “the Confucius Institutes or classroom are open and transparent and are in strict accordance with the rules and regulations of the host institutions.”
“Contributions have been enthusiastically welcomed by colleges, students and local communities in the United States,” said Liu Pengyu, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington.
In 2009, the Confucius Institute was established at the National University of La Plata in Argentina by Professor Norberto Consani as its director. At the same institution, he is also the director the Institute of International Relations.
Contrary to Consani, he does not feel the Confucius Institutes’ association with universities hinders academic freedom in any way. There are no prohibited themes in his university courses, he claimed.
This has been a controversial topic for us because of our strong views on human rights in China.
The Confucius Institutes in China, on the other hand, have more reserved classroom interactions, as he recognized.
The profession of teaching is “cautiously…. Neither politics nor the economics are taught in school. Zero. The only difference is in the wording “Consani stated this,
The Confucius Institutes have grown at a higher rate in nations where China has built more trade ties. Chile has two Confucius Institutes and five Confucius cultural halls, all of which are located in the country’s primary export market of China. There are four universities in Peru. Confucius Institutes and cultural halls have been established in Brazil at a rate of one a year. Brazil and Peru mostly export to China. Between Brazil and Peru, exports to China will account for 22.7% and 27.9% of total exports, respectively, in 2020.
Three research institutions are located in Argentina, a nation that has joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
In Ecuador, the second-largest economic partner of China, the number of students enrolling in Confucius Institutes has risen.
According to Universidad San Francisco de Quito’s director of internationalization, Alexandra Velasco, students are motivated to learn Mandarin by the prospect of receiving scholarships from China and the chance of conducting business with that country.
“Imports are a major factor. People I know who have master’s degrees in China as a result of scholarships are interested in finding, for example, a factory that enables them produce what they have in mind or import things straight from there or build links to deliver shrimp. As a matter of fact, they’re also interested in the academic side “Velasco was quoted as saying.
Countries like the U.S. have warned that the advantages of the Confucius Institutes may come at a cost to academic freedoms.