A Confucius Institute in Karachi, Pakistan

Beijing: Confucius institutes have been under the scanner for far more serious accusations than being an instrument of propaganda.

With approximately 530 Confucius Institutes globally, these centres have come under considerable scrutiny for allegations surrounding espionage, spying and academic censorship among other charges, reported The HK Post.

These conspicuous institutes have often been termed the Trojan horse of China. They breach their way into the nation's gates without many realising the collateral damage in terms of the subversion of national security.

These groups of institutes are run by the office of the Chinese Language Council International also known as Hanban around the world.

In a nutshell, the Confucius Institute provides three modes of operation including one wholly operated by its Beijing headquarters.

Many Confucius institutes in Europe and North America have been initiated through joint ventures with foreign universities offering courses on the Chinese language and culture, reported The HK Post.

Attractive foreign grants for setting -up infrastructure, courses and local Chinese instructors have prompted many renowned universities to take up their joint partnership with the Confucius Institutes.

Yet there seems to be no denying the fact that these set of institutes are not only funded but also advised, administered and guided by the Chinese Communist Party.

In 2019, a serious spying allegation levied on the head professor of the Confucius institute associated with the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) led to the shutdown of the Confucius Institute in Belgium. Sweden and Denmark shut down their local tie-ups with the Confucius institutes in 2020, while Norway wrapped up its local association in 2021. Sweden's Helsinki University also very recently decided to terminate its contract amid a series of espionage charges levied against the Institute, reported The HK Post.

Among the serious concerns raised by the university was the academic censorship that resulted in avoiding topics on cultural revolution, discussions on Taiwan and atrocities committed by the CCP inside the Chinese nation.

There stand at least 190 institutes in the European Union currently where most of them are seen to be reviewing their partnerships.

Rishi Sunak, a promising candidate for the UK's prime minister's post, has gone to the extent of promising to ban all 30 of the Confucius Institute that functions in the country if elected to power.

These kinds of tight-roped statements and actions by European countries are a testimony to the danger that these nations see in continuing to forge academic relations with the Chinese government, reported The HK Post.

Moreover, the US too has come down heavily against finances these local partners receive from Chinese sources. As of 2022, the number of CI's in the US has fallen to 18 from more than a hundred some years ago.

On 13th August 2020, Mike Pompeo the then Secretary of State designated all Confucius Institutes as foreign missions of the People's Republic of China. The press release went on to state that the institutes "were an entity advancing Beijing's global propaganda and malign influence campaign on US campuses and K-12 classrooms.

In March 2021, the Senate house unanimously passed a bill that would cut federal funds to universities and colleges that do not comply with new oversight rules and regulations.

In 2018, the National Defence Authorization Act, prohibited universities that host Confucius Institutes from receiving US Department of Defence funding.

More recently, a Harvard chemistry professor was convicted of lying against Chinese funding that he had received as part of his research work. These examples are some of many such instances where China and its set of Confucius Institutes have grown its tentacles in the academic world through its supposed soft power approach.

The veil of using soft diplomacy in furthering its sinister ambitions has certainly not stood the test of time due to many of such institutes being seen for what it actually is, reported The HK Post.

It has now more than ever become important to proceed with caution regarding such initiatives as widespread charges against the Confucius Institutes have come to light in the recent past.