University of Aberdeen Chinese teaching group threatened

The University of Aberdeen’s Chinese teaching group may be banned for claiming to be a ‘danger to free thought’.

Conservative leadership hopeful Rishi Sunak has pledged to close all 30 Confucius Institutes in the UK – the highest number of any country in the world.

The programs promote Chinese language and culture abroad.

But North East MP Andrew Bowie, who backed the former chancellor to become the next prime minister, warned they were ignoring topics “inconvenient” for China’s ruling Communist Party.

Mr Sunak’s vow to shut down the groups could see him come into conflict with the SNP since education is devolved to Holyrood.

It is not yet clear how a ban would work in Scottish universities and schools.

University of Aberden.

Confucius Institutes were first launched by China in 2004 and have since been opened around the world, with dozens now in Britain.

While the regime is described by the Chinese government as a way for them to promote education and culture in other countries, critics say it allows Beijing to sell “soft power” abroad.

Since arriving in Scotland, the education program has also established links with schools across the country.

Primary and secondary schools in Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Moray, the Western Isles and Shetland have all opened their own institutes.

“Promote Chinese soft power”

Writing on social media this week, Mr Sunak said: “I would close all 30 Chinese Confucius Institutes in the UK – the highest number in the world.

“Nearly all British government spending on teaching Mandarin in schools is channeled through university Confucius Institutes, thus promoting Chinese soft power.”

Aberdeenshire MP Mr Bowie added: ‘Universities must be protected from undue state influence and insidious doctrines which vie for the eyes and ears of students.

Andrew Bowie MP.

“Students simply seeking to learn Mandarin have been prohibited from engaging in matters embarrassing to the Chinese Community Party, such as its human rights record or treatment.”

The University of Aberdeen said its institute “promotes the exchange of knowledge and cultural knowledge between China and the North East of Scotland”.

They added: “He does not fund any other organization, department or company.”

In May, controversy erupted when The Times reported that a Chinese scholar at Northeastern University had defended Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Expected due diligence

The Scottish government has said universities are responsible for deciding their own overseas partnerships.

But a spokesperson added: “All universities understand and manage the reputational, ethical and security risks potentially associated with international partnerships.

“This includes conducting appropriate due diligence before entering into such partnerships and monitoring existing partnerships for emerging issues.”

In 2018, Nicola Sturgeon announced funding of over £700,000 for the Confucius Institute Schools Programme.

But since then, senior SNP figures – including Westminster defense spokesman Stewart McDonald – have criticized the scheme.

Stewart McDonald

Mr Sunak’s tough stance comes as he tries to outflank Tory leadership rival Liz Truss in the race for No 10.

During a heated BBC debate between the pair, Ms Truss said the ex-Chancellor had been soft on China until recently.

Westminster’s relationship with Beijing was much stronger than it was just a few years ago when David Cameron was prime minister.

But the Conservative Party’s stance on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s government has since hardened following the major crackdown on protests in Hong Kong.

A Scottish Universities spokesperson said: “Universities are engaging with open eyes and due diligence, ensuring that their practice is in line with academic freedom and institutional autonomy.

“The internationalization of higher education brings many benefits to our home students, to the curriculum and to research, as well as income to universities and a contribution to the economy and cultural life of the ‘Scotland.”

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