The expansion of the Confucius Institutes has been incredible since 2006 in Latin America. These institutes are located on university campuses and attract many students who are interested in Chinese culture and language. The Confucius Institute have a presence in 23 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The Confucius Institutes basically teach Mandarin, finance summer camps in China and holds cultural events and grants scholarship to study in their country. Many students desire to go to China and earn a master’s degree. Critics are warning that these programs are soft power play to create an impact on the student attending Beijing run schools.
The Confucius Centre opened in 2010 since then enrolment in the Mandarin classes has grown from 40 to 300 active students. One of the students whose name is Daniel Jimenez stated that “we look for job offers abroad, nevertheless it is difficult to learn Chinese it’s challenging but worth doing.”
Jake Gilstrap who is the author of the academic paper ‘Confucius Institute of China in Latin America: Tools of meek power’ elucidated that the Chinese government offers study materials to instructors, further, offers the option of scholarships in China to those who achieved proficiency in the language.
These offers are also provided to students, professors and researchers as stated by Gilstrap. Further Gilstarp said to VOA that China’s vision is to create a generation of future leaders in Latin America, through their close association and cultural understanding, and then the world can be similar to China’s worldview. This will exclusively support China’s foreign policy objectives.
Furthermore, Parsifal D’Sola, who is the director of China’s Latin America Research Centre, said that he dreads academic freedom. The escalating existence of Chinese government-funded institutions may shepherd to dwindle in the production of subjects on topics considered delicate to China, for instance, political freedom, suppression and censorship of the Uighur population.
There is an increased involvement of Latin American professors in research funded by Chinese government entities; therefore we will see reduced criticism within the universities, which is something that approbates China in its international image as reported by VOA in the interview of D’Sola.
China’s intimidation of academic freedoms outside its border further added that the Chinese officials pursued to induce academic debates and watched overseas students from China, banned scholarly inquiry or intervened with academic freedom as reported in 2019 by Human Rights Watch.
The report further added that Confucius Institutes are an addendum of the Chinese government that ban certain topics and use mindset in course materials on political grounds and utilize engaging practices that take political loyalty into consideration.
The variation between Confucius Institutes and other language and culture teaching programs instance the Alliance Francais or the British Institute is that those programs are not held inside the universities as stated by Gilstrap.
Beijing established the Confucius Institutes in 2004. Since then, the government-financed school has enlarged to 162 countries, with more than 500 institutes worldwide and more than 1000 classrooms within the sphere of Confucius Institutes in each country.
China in a joint venture plan with countries like Latin America and the Caribbean States, Chin has pledged to open more Confucius Institutes and will offer 5000 government scholarships and 3000 training places in China over the next coming three years.
Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., said to the VOA queries that the Confucius Institutes are open classrooms and transparent and come in stringent adherence with the laws and the regulations of China’s institution with which they have an understanding.
Further, the Confucius Institutes’ contribution has been extensively praised by the universities, students and local communities in the United States as stated by the spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Liu Pengyu.
Professor Norberto Consani who is the local director of the Confucius Institutes in Argentina said that he does not believe that ‘Confucius Institutes have an impact on academic freedom. Further, added there are no barred topics in his university.’
Though we have critical opinions regarding human rights in China, still the professor is guarded in their classroom interaction, and they don’t teach politics or economy only100 per cent language.
The most vital thing to watch is that the enlargement of the Confucius Institutes has grown faster in the countries with whom China has formulated trading commercial exchanges. Instances are Chile whose main export destination is China which has two Confucius Institutes, Peru has four Confucius Institutes, Brazil has ten Confucius Institutes and further, three Confucius cultural halls. As we see Brazil exports 22.7% to China, Peru exports 27.9% in 2020 to China.
Argentina the latest addition to the list of China’s new Belt and Road Initiative has three institutes. Ecuador in the list stands second for trading partners has students interested in Confucius Institutes. According to one of the directors of Internationalization at Universidad San Francisco de Quito, student interest is raised because of the scholarship offered by China and the opportunity to do business with that country.
In a way, we can conclude that China’s educational institutes no doubt create an impact on the students of Latin America and the Caribbean States. US warning that this advantage will come with the cost of academic freedom. China has a strategy of promoting its government-financed institutes as it wants to promote China’s global view, in a way benefit promoting its foreign policy aims.