The US Department of State has branded the Chinese Confucius Institute U.S. Centre (CIUS) as a “foreign mission” which alongside its subsidiary Confucius Institutes (CIs) spreads “skewed Chinese language and cultural training” to students amounting to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) “propaganda” in a recent fact sheet.

It goes on to state that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) partially funds these Institutes “under guidance” by the United Front Work Department – a department which reports directly to the Central Committee of the CCP. 

The CIUS’s designation as a foreign mission will not lead to its closure nor its CIs, but will require the CIUS to supply information to the US State Department on “PRC citizen personnel, recruiting, funding, and operations”. Commenting on the “impact of Chinese Communist Party ideology”, the statement references a 2019 UCD study which found that wherever a CI is opened there is a “statistically significant shift in the tone of local media stories in the PRC’s favour”. 

Responding to this latest development in US-China relations, CCP Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian comments that “the operation and management of the Institutes are open, transparent, and abide by university standards” and that he “urge[s] the US side to abandon the Cold War mentality and stop politicizing education”. 

Albeit the domain of geopolitics, this move will resonate amongst the UCD academic community as the University houses its own CI – the ‘UCD Confucius Centre for Ireland’. Since opening in 2018, the Centre has been plagued by controversy for being the first CI to receive direct funding from the CCP and with its construction running €4.8 million over budget. This overrun saw current UCD President Andrew Deeks request an additional €2.5 million in funding from the Department of Education to avoid a “diplomatic incident” with China. This request was later rejected by both the Irish and Chinese governments leaving UCD to pay the remaining €4.1 million in costs. 

Not to be consigned to finances, the Centre and other CIs have been the locus of concerns over academic censorship. In July, Hanban (otherwise known as the Confucius Institute Headquarters) revised its title to the ‘Ministry of Education Centre for Language Education and Cooperation’ after allegations emerged that it maintains ties to the CCP, despite its website advertising its institutes as “non-profit public institutions”. UCD’s ability to revise the usage of the Centre is restricted by a penalty clause within the “50-year free lease” which requires that “it must pay the Ministry of Education the balance of its contribution at a rate of €60,000 a year”.

Rowan Kelleher – Assistant News Editor

Clarification: A previous version of this article contained an inaccuracy in the title. An amendment has been made to better reflect the statement made by the US State Department. 16:46, 14/8/20.