BEIJING – The move by the Trump Administration to designate China’s Confucius Institute as a foreign mission is aimed at both demonising and stigmatising normal operations of the language centres, an avenue of cooperation between both sides, Beijing said on Friday (Aug 14).
“We express our strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition to this,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said, adding that Beijing reserved the right to respond.
Speaking at a regular press briefing, Mr Zhao said Washington’s actions were made out of “ideological prejudice and self-interest” and were unacceptable, adding that the Confucius Institute centres were a bridge to help people learn Chinese and understand China, and have contributed positively to cultural exchange between the US and China.
The Confucius Institute is funded by the Chinese government and the Trump Administration, in designating it as a foreign mission on Thursday, said the centres were part of China’s propaganda operations in the US.
Confucius Institute centres around the US must now adhere to administrative requirements that foreign embassies and consulates are also subject to and also ensure greater transparency over their activities.
The latest salvo from Washington comes as ties between the two giants continue to sour over issues including espionage, trade and technology.
Earlier this year, nine Chinese media outlets were also designated as “foreign missions” after Washington accused them of furthering China’s propaganda aims.
Beijing on Friday urged the United States to abandon its “Cold War zero-sum mindset”.
“Stop politicising these educational exchange programmes, interfering with normal cultural exchanges between China and the United States, and damaging mutual trust and cooperation between China and the US,” said Mr Zhao.
The US has long viewed Confucius Institute centres, many of which operate as partnerships with local universities to teach the Chinese language and promote Chinese culture, as a soft power tool of Beijing’s – they are managed by Hanban, an agency under China’s Education Ministry.
Recognising the growing criticism, China has sought to rebrand the Confucius Institute. Chinese media reported last month that operations of the Confucius Institute will be transferred to a non-governmental organisation called the Chinese International Education Foundation.
Nationalist tabloid Global Times denounced the move to have Confucius Institute centres register as foreign missions, saying it will have an “extensive and long-term impact” and cause universities to be hesitant about cooperating with them.
“The US is the most petty-minded of all big powers. Many Western countries have Confucius Institutes, but only the US, the world’s sole superpower, feels threatened. Where is the US’ confidence? Where is its cultural tolerance?” it said in an editorial on Friday.
Reacting to the latest developments, Chinese experts said Washington was clearly out to push back against China’s projection of soft power in the US.
People-to-people exchanges between both sides have also been a casualty as ties worsen. This year the US cancelled its Fulbright exchange programme in China and Hong Kong as well as the Peace Corps programme where American volunteers visit China to teach English to Chinese students.
“Trump’s direction is very clear, he wants to restrict China’s soft power projection… He is going against all traditional US policy against China,” said Renmin University international relations professor Shi Yinhong, who expects China to take retaliatory measures.
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