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Germany to restrict influence of China's Confucius Institute

June 29, 2023

Germany's education minister has called for "clear limits" to be imposed on the Confucius Institute, which promotes Chinese language and culture.

A Confucius Institute flag at the Metropole Ruhr in Germany
There are around 500 Confucius Institutes throughout the world, 19 of which are in GermanyImage: Fabian Strauch/dpa/picture alliance

The German government wants to limit the influence of China's Confucius Institute in the country, Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger told German newspaper Handelsblatt in an interview published on Thursday.

There are currently 19 Confucius Institutes in Germany, according to government data, most of which are attached to universities where they offer language courses as well as talks on Chinese culture and history.

The minister from the neoliberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) called for "clear limits" on China's "direct influence" on science and teaching.

Intelligence agency warns of threat to academic freedom

Germany's Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) categorized the Chinese institute as a tool for political influence in its annual report this year.

"China's activities and forms of cooperation threaten to undermine academic freedom in the field of education and research," the BfV said.

The FDP has previously stated its opposition to the presence of Confucius Institutes in Germany  and even called for an end to their partnership in the Bundestag.

"More universities should now be critically questioning their connections to the Confucius Institute and live up to their responsibilities," Stark-Watzinger told Handelsblatt.

A look back at recent German-Chinese relations

Universities oppose 'blanket ban' of Confucius Institute

Germany's Interior Ministry is also skeptical about cooperation with the Confucius Institute, which it sees "extremely critically from a security point of view."

A spokesperson from the ministry told Handelsblatt that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses the institute to depict an "impeccable image" of China as part of the party's influence strategy.

"At least part of the CCP's influence on the Confucius Institute comes from the fact that it gets a not insubstantial part of its funding from the Chinese state," the spokesperson said.

Roderich Kiesewetter, from the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and a member of the Bundestag's intelligence committee, told Handelsblatt the institute was paving the way for espionage and intimidation of Chinese nationals living abroad.

There have been confirmed attempts by the Confucius Institute to exert influence in Hannover and Duisburg-Essen, and universities in Frankfurt, Hamburg, Düsseldorf and Trier have already ended their partnerships, the newspaper reported.

But Walter Rosenthal, the president of the German Rectors' Conference — an association of universities and higher education institutions — told Handelsblatt that a "blanket ban on cooperation" with the institute would not make sense.

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ab/dj (AFP, Reuters)