The Confucius Institute is on the 8th floor of the British Columbia Insititute of Technology (BCIT) in downtown Vancouver.
The BC gov't is a provincial gov't, and like the name suggests, they are a provincial organization. Lacking proper scope and perspective.
Why a democratic gov't in Canada wishes to intimately associate one of its schools with an authoritarian government seems mysterious. China has the bucks to rent some real shiny digs elsewhere. BCIT should evict them ASAP.
Has BCIT sold out to Chinese propaganda?
Has BCIT sold out to Chinese propaganda?
The Confucius Institute presents itself as a goodwill gesture by Beijing to foster a cultural exchange on campus, but critics say it's really a tool for spying, infiltration and silencing opposition
Janet Steffenhagen, Vancouver Sun
Published: Wednesday, April 02, 2008
There are deeply divided views about the Confucius Institute in Vancouver: Some say it's a goodwill gesture by Beijing to teach Chinese language and culture, while others believe it's part of a plot by an emerging superpower to infiltrate and influence foreign citizens and their governments.
Controlled and mostly funded by Beijing, the institute operates in partnership with the B.C. Institute of Technology. BCIT subscribes to the goodwill theory, but some human-rights lawyers say the Confucius Institute is a sophisticated attempt to persuade a world hungry for the Chinese goods and markets to ignore China's human-rights abuses.
A report from Canada's spy agency CSIS tends toward the latter view more than the former.
View Larger Image BCIT's Lawrence Gu, dean of the Confucius Institute, estimates 250 students have been involved with the institute part-time since it opened -- from workshops to evening classes to a one-day course in Mandarin.
Ian Lindsay, Vancouver Sun files
"I'm surprised people are that naive about China," David Matas, a prominent Winnipeg lawyer, said in an interview. "On the other hand, the need for money is endless and bottomless and China's got lots of it. People are very easily persuaded by money to delude themselves."
BCIT officials scoff at suggestions that China has ulterior motives for setting up five Confucius Institutes in Canada and more than 100 around the world. Many operate in partnership with post-secondary schools, but the most recent deal China has signed in Canada is with the Edmonton public school board.
"The real purpose of the Confucius Institute is to build bridges between the host country, the host institution and China," said Jim Reichert, BCIT vice-president, research and international. "It creates a mechanism whereby people can learn about China -- the culture, the basics of language, the business structures and other things that make building that bridge easier."
The Confucius Institute occupies the top floor in BCIT's Vancouver campus. It has kept a low profile since it opened with a flourish more than two years ago as the first in Canada. That ceremony was attended by 200 guests, including senior officials from federal, provincial and municipal governments, a newsletter said at the time.
Deputy B.C. Premier Shirley Bond and Chen Zhili, a senior Chinese Communist Party official, unveiled the inaugural plaque.
The institute has received little attention since then, except for a flurry of media reports last year after a declassified intelligence report from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service suggested China was using the institutes as a form of "soft power" to gain influence and stature abroad.
The Confucius Institute at BCIT offers only a handful of courses, has few students and has little obvious presence in the Seymour Street building. Its website, which is not kept up-to-date, says its mandate is to promote cultural exchanges, economic and business development, international trade, Chinese language and commercial cooperation.
While BCIT runs the day-to-day operations, it is required by Chinese bylaws to report to Beijing, which sets the rules and contributes undisclosed amounts to cover costs. Receipts leaked to The Vancouver Sun show that China has wired several hundred thousand dollars to its BCIT Confucius Institute.
But there's little sign of activity. Three recent visits by The Sun to BCIT's eighth floor found an unstaffed reception desk carrying the Confucius Institute name. On one visit, the entire eighth floor was vacant; on another, classes were in session but all were sponsored by other organizations.
In a recent interview, Reichert said the school is still gearing up as it tries to determine what types of courses, workshops and seminars are needed by British Columbians hoping to enter the Chinese market. "We're not aiming for big numbers," added Lawrence Gu, BCIT's director of international business services and Confucius Institute dean. "That's not our focus."
Gu estimated that 250 students have been involved with the institute part-time since it opened -- with participation ranging from workshops, evening classes and a one-day course called Mandarin in One Day. BCIT said it wasn't able to provide the numbers in full-time equivalents.
This week, the institute issued a news release announcing the official opening of a testing centre for students studying Chinese as a second language. The same testing centre was also announced in September 2007.
The Confucius Institute operates on a cost-recovery basis, with help from China, Gu said. But he refused to release any financial data, saying Beijing insists on confidentiality because such information could affect its negotiations with other institutions anxious to have their own Confucius Institutes.
Matas, senior legal counsel for B'nai Brith Canada, said he isn't familiar with the Confucius Institute at BCIT, but last month he delivered a broad warning about the institutes during a speech at Cambridge University that focused heavily on China's human rights abuses, especially toward the Falun Gong.
He said some institutes have become spy outlets for the Chinese government and others are used to control certain campus activities, such as Falun Gong protests or discussions.
"Nominally, [the institutes] are just Chinese studies . . . but informally they become a vehicle that the Chinese government uses to basically intimidate the academic institutions to run according to their guise and also as a vehicle for infiltration and spying into the campuses to find out what's going on hostile to their interest," Matas told The Sun.
Post-secondary institutions that have Chinese programs are susceptible to such pressure because they need to have good relations with China and access to the country, he said. As well, there is the money that can come to schools directly or indirectly through international students.
Clive Ansley, a Vancouver Island lawyer with extensive Chinese experience, holds a similar view, although he says he doesn't doubt institutions such as BCIT have good intentions in entering into partnerships with China. "This is part of a very, very overwhelming campaign that a lot of people call soft power that China is using to penetrate virtually every institution and every level of western society."
Even before China began establishing Confucius Institutes abroad, there were troubling signs of that country's growing influence on western campuses, he said, as some universities began disallowing public discussions about sensitive human-rights issues.
Post-secondary schools know that offending China would mean an end to grants, academic and student exchanges and -- most importantly -- the chance to attract fee-paying international students from the most populous country in the world to bolster their budgets, said Ansley, who practised law in China for 14 years.
Returning to Canada after two decades in Asia, Ansley, who is also an academic, says he was "shocked to the core" by the corruption and corrosion of the university as an institution in Western countries as a result of China's cultural subversion. He blames governments for cutting public funds and forcing post-secondary institutions to become entrepreneurial.
BCIT officials say human rights aren't discussed at the Confucius Institute in Vancouver because that's not part of its mandate. "Our function really is focused on the cultural awareness, business development, those sort of pragmatic things. As an educational institute, that's what we pursue," Reichert said.
Gu suggested that any influence exerted through the Institute could favour Canada rather than China, especially when business practices in the two countries are compared.
Jan Walls, a retired professor of Chinese language at Simon Fraser University and founding director of SFU's Asia-Canada Program, said China is in the process of reclaiming its role as an important and influential centre of world civilization and he doubts its efforts to spread influence are much different from those of other countries.
He compared the Confucius Institute to Alliance Française, which promotes the French language and culture abroad, or the British Council, which does the same for English. But Ansley rejected the comparison, saying the Confucius Institutes are far more political in nature.
Unlike Confucius Institutes, the British and French organizations operate independently and do not partner with schools in other countries.
As a simple example of how institutions bend to China's will, Ansley noted that BCIT refused to allow a reporter from the Epoch Times, a New York-based newspaper that frequently writes about the Falun Gong, to attend the news conference marking the opening of its Confucius Institute. "That was absolutely outrageous," he said.
Ansley is representing the Falun Gong in its legal battle with the City of Vancouver to continue its long-running protest presence in front of the Chinese consulate. The case is expected to be back in court next week.
Allison Markin, BCIT's media relations manager, said the Epoch Times was not well known at the time and had not been invited. Since then, it has been included in many BCIT events, she added.
Before the Confucius Institute was established at BCIT, the University of B.C. was considered as a possible location, but UBC declined.
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