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HomenewsWorldUK Backtracks on Chinese Institute Ban

UK Backtracks on Chinese Institute Ban

The UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has backtracked on a pledge to close down 30 Chinese state-sponsored Confucius Institutes across the country. 

During his unsuccessful bid last year to become leader of the Conservative party  a move before his promotion to Prime Minister, Sunak had promised to ban operations at the cultural schools, which stand accused of spreading propaganda and spying on students, amid ongoing political tensions with China. 

However last week, the UK government announced that it would be “disproportionate” to close the institutes, but a senior Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Sir Iain Duncan Smith called the u-turn decision “ridiculous.” 

Confucius Institutes, which teach Chinese language and culture, became the subject of controversy after several critics and charities accused the schools of being duped by the Chinese government into spreading propaganda and interfering  with students’ free speech on campuses.

Duncan Smith, a former Conservative party leader, argued the schools were “nothing to do with language.”

The most recent decision has been widely criticized within the Conservative party, with former Prime Minister Liz Truss urging Rishi Sunak to deliver on his original statement in which he had promised to close all of the institutes in Britain and branding China “the biggest-long term threat to Britain.”

In March, Sunak appeared to adopt a less severe approach, and an updated review on foreign and defense policy described China as an “epoch-defining and systemic challenge” as opposed to an immediate “threat.” 

A government spokesperson said “We recognize concerns about overseas interference in our higher education sector, including through Confucius Institutes, and regularly assess the risks facing academia.”

“We are taking action to remove any government funding from Confucius Institutes in the UK, but currently judge that it would be disproportionate to ban them.”

“Like any international body operating in the UK, Confucius Institutes need to operate transparently and within the law, and with a full commitment to our values of openness and freedom of expression.”

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