A prominent modern world technique exercised by nation-states in the 21st century to further their
foreign policy objectives, has been their emphasis on expediting diplomacy through ‘Soft Power’
tactics. The past couple of decades have witnessed the rise of soft power diplomacy more
frequently than the ones preceding to them. Joseph Nye, a well-acclaimed scholar of international
relations, defines soft power as ‘the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than
coercion or payments.’1Western countries more generally have been exercising soft power
diplomacy around the world with major focus on their non-western counterparts.Among the
manynoteworthy soft power practices, the establishment of cultural centres inmajor cities around
the world has been the most influential one. Some of these centres include the famous British
Council, Alliance Francaise, Goethe Institute amongst others. Cultural centres such as these are
initiated to promote the cultural undertones of the parent nation.Language and cultural courses are
one the most popular means of interaction these soft power institutes offer as part of their outreach
to native communities.
A significant counterpart to these cultural institutes in past decades has been the genesis of the
Confucius Institutes from China. These group of institutes run by the office of the Chinese
Language Council International also known as Hanban around the world, were established on
similar grounds as that of its western equivalents.In 2020, the CCP rebranded the parent
organization of the Confucius Institutes, Hanban as the Centre for Language Education and
Cooperation. As part of the change, the Chinese government formed the Chinese International
Education Foundation, a Ministry of Educationsponsorednon-governmental charitable
organization comprised of universities and corporations, to provide funding to the Institutes.
The Confucius Institutesdescribes its main objective as to ‘support local Chinese teaching
internationally, and facilitate cultural exchanges’, which needless to say does not reflect its purpose
of function in over 142 countries around the world.Hanban which previously managed the
CI’swasa subsidiary of the Ministry of Education in China, directly influenced by the Chinese
Communist Party.All teaching materials are devised and scrutinised in order to present an errorfree image of the Chinese Communist Party and the government. So much so that researchers have
even found the study material for cultural courses to often whitewash fault lines of the CCP in
many sensitive matters as that of the Tiananmen square massacre, the Taiwanese issue and the
Uyghurs Muslims for propagandic purposes.
Even more so, the Confucius institutes have been under the scanner for far more serious
accusations than being an instrument of propaganda. With approximately 530 Confucius Institutes
globally, these centres have come under considerable scrutiny for allegations surrounding
espionage, spying and academic censorship amongst other charges.
But before we dwell in to how and why these conspicuous institutes have often beentermed the
Trojan Horse of China, it is important that we briefly inspect its models of functioning and the
process through which it establishesits presence in foreign countries.In a nutshell, the CI’s provides
for three modes of operation including wholly operated by its Beijing headquarters; or by entering
1Nye Jr, J. S. (2004). Soft power: The means to success in world politics. Public affairs.
in to joint ventures with local partners such as universities and others organisations; or by
completely run local offices licensed by the erstwhileHanban.
2 Many CI’s in Europe and North
America have been initiated through joint ventures with foreign universities offering courses on
Chinese language and culture.
Established first in Seoul in 2004, the CI’s have outnumbered many of its European counterparts
in the past decade or so. Attractive foreign grants for setting -up infrastructure, courses and local
Chinese instructors has prompted many renowned universities to take up its joint partnership with
the Confucius Institutes. Yet there seems to be no denying the fact that these set of institutes are
not only funded but also advised, administered and guided by the Chinese Communist Party.
Regular and rampant spying allegations in European nations have casted significant aspersions on
the Confucius Institutes and their role as an extended arm of the Chinese Communist Party. In
2019, a serious spying allegation levied on the head professor of the Confucius institute associated
with the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)led to the shut down of the Confucius Institute in
Belgium.Sweden and Denmark shut down their local tie-ups with the Confucius institutes in 2020,
while Norway wrapped up its local association in 2021. Sweden’s Helsinki University also very
recently decided to terminate its contract amid a series of espionage charges levied against the
Institute. Among the serious concerns raised by the university was the academic censorship that
resulted in avoiding topics on cultural revolution, discussions on Taiwanand atrocities committed
by the CCP inside the Chinese nation. There stand at least 190 institutes in the European Union
currently where most of them are seen to be reviewing their partnerships. Rishi Sunak, a promising
candidate for the U.K’s prime minister’s post, has gone to the extent of promising to ban all 30 of
the Confucius Institute that function in the country if elected to power. He also has laid emphasis
to “kick the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) out of our universities” by forcing higher education
establishments to disclose foreign funding of more than £50,000 ($60,000) and reviewing research
partnerships. These kinds of tight-roped statements and actions by European countries are a
testimony to the danger that these nations see in continuing to forge academic relations with the
Chinese government; which more generally is veiled for far more sinister purposes such as
subversion and sabotage of crucial elements within the state.
However, it is not only the European nations who have acted upon claims of spying against the
Confucius institutes, U.S.A itself has come down heavily against finances these local partners
receive from Chinese sources. As of 2022, the number of CI’s in the US has fallen to 18 from more
than a hundred some years ago.According to a U.S. Senate Permanent Sub-committee on
Investigations report, China hasspent over $158 million on Confucius Institutes in the United
States between 2006 and 2019. In addition to affiliations with acclaimed universities, the Institutes
also sponsor Confucius Classrooms in U.S. primary and secondary schools. The classrooms
aregenerally linked with Institutes at nearby colleges, however they have been significantly
decreasing following some tough legislations enacted in the country. For instance, on 13th August
2020, Mike Pompeo the then Secretary of State, designated all Confucius Institutes as foreign
missions of the People’s Republic of China. The press release went on to state that the institutes
“were an entity advancing Beijing’s globalpropaganda and malign influence campaign on U.S.
campuses and K-12 classrooms. Confucius Institutes are funded by the PRC and part of the
2Starr, D. (2009). Chinese language education in Europe: the Confucius Institutes. European Journal of
Education, 44(1), 65-82.
Chinese Communist Party’s globalinfluence and propaganda apparatus.”In March 2021, the
Senate house unanimously passed a bill that would cut federal funds to universities and colleges
that do not comply with new oversight rules and regulations.In 2018, the National Defence
Authorization Act, prohibited universities that host Confucius Institutes from receiving US
Department of Defence fundings. This has seen to be amongst the prominent reason for the drastic
decrease in the number of CI’s functioning on U.S soil and also indicates the seriousness with
which the U.S government views the Confucius Institutes.
As per the Congressional Research Service report 2022, the Chinese begin by providing start-up
funds amounting to $ 150,000 and an operating cost of up to $100,000-$200,000 per year to each
Confucius Institute located in the U.S. (many schools and universities accept over $1.7 million
annually from Chinese fundings). In order to contain such rampant funding from the Chinese in to
the American education system, the Trump administration had proposed the American colleges
and universities be required to disclose every financial ties with the Confucius institutes, although
the same was withdrawn by the Biden administration deeming not to take the set of institutions
More recently, a Harvard chemistry professor was convicted of lying against Chinese funding that
he had received as part of his research work. These examples are some of many such instances
where China and its set of Confucius Institutes have grown its tentacles in the academic world
through its supposed soft power approach. The veil of using soft diplomacy in furthering its sinister
ambitions has certainly not stood the test of times due to many of such institutes being seen for
what it actually is. It has now more than ever become important to proceed with caution regarding
such initiatives as widespread charges against the Confucius Institutes have come to light in the
recent past. Financial funding has seen to be the most attractive method through which these group
of institutions have gained attraction with foreign organisations and university and tough
legislations in terms of Chinese funds is the need of the hour. U.S and many other European
countries have acknowledged the threat that the Confucius Institutes pose in front of their national
sovereignty and have also experienced first hand the rising national security challenges the Chinese
Communist Party poses in front of them. It is perhaps time that such acts be called out for what
their true purpose is and other nations affiliated with such institutes take precautionary measures;
for if not, then this Trojan horse might just breach its way in to the nations gates without many of
us realising the collateral damagein terms of the subversionof national security such actions would

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