A new U.S. policy that restricts Confucius Institutes starts a debate about China's influence abroad.
When the Chinese government, riding the increasing global interest in learning Mandarin, started to open up language and cultural centers abroad by the hundreds, worried murmuring spread among foreign critics. Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms, as these centers are called, have 380 locations in the U.S., and are run by Chinese government-trained and -financed language teachers in collaboration with American education institutions. But, due to the various censorship rules governing what it can and can't say -- no mention of the Dalai Lama or the Tiananmen Massacre -- some in the West have criticized it as propaganda vehicles, a label that has not pleased the Chinese authorities who hoped the initiative would improve China's image. Still, the most painful sting came this week, when the State Department announced new policies to regulate these teaching centers in the United States.
Chinese language teachers at university-based institutes who are teaching at the elementary- and secondary-school level are violating the terms of their visas, according to the announcement, and must leave the U.S. by June to renew them abroad. It also requires the U.S.-based centers to acquire American accreditation in order to continue accepting foreign teachers.
"Is it China who doesn't want to connect with the world, or is it America who doesn't want to accept China's rise?"
The State Department denies targeting Confucius Institutes with its new policies, and seems to have done some backpedaling after the announcement. The news has ignited wide discussion on Weibo, China's Twitter-like social media platform, including some thoughtful reflections on China's approach of pushing soft power abroad.