Confucius Institute Speech

Vote for ambition

Confucius Institute Speech


During the previous council meeting, I cited a selective period from the French Revolution to make a point. Mr. de Vries then rightly corrected me, pointing out that you have to look at history as a whole and cannot selectively shop around in it.

Mr. De Vries was right, of course. And what he did is also directly point out the core of our university. Critical thinking, not taking statements at face value. Positions must be proven and you can’t cherry-pick in history. Hence, the college’s position, that history should be considered from all perspectives; as was evident in the inclusiveness debate; is a very sensible point.

And differences in views, also in the context of diversity of thought, should be allowed to be conducted in public and with an open mind. Free debate in a safe environment, that is the core of our university. 

But how much is this vision at odds with our collaboration with the Confucius Institute? How diametrically opposed is our academic freedom, to our collaborations with Chinese universities.

That starts with the agreements that the Board has signed.

The Board has agreed to an agreement in which damaging the reputation of the Confucius Institute is punished. 

The Board has agreed to an agreement in which damaging the image of China is sanctioned. 

The Board has agreed to agreements in which non-compliance with Chinese law is punished.

Chairman, where has our academic freedom gone. Why does the Board not safeguard our freedom and security? Why is the Board putting our university at such great risk? 

Mr. President, in doing so, the Board is fostering censorship and self-censorship. Indeed, it has already done so. Professor Roger Moore (you remember, the professor who also put his scrawl on a contract in which he solemnly promised not to damage China’s reputation) announced back in 2017 that he would censor himself at the request of the Chinese Communist Party.

Mr. Moore spoke the following words when asked what he would do if a CCP party secretary commented on his teaching: ”Then I think I can do two things. Either I stand firm and get sent away as a martyr of academic freedom. That doesn’t seem to make much sense to me. Or I make sure that I keep that official on my good side by not talking about the wrong subjects in the lecture hall anymore. But in my own house I can then still say what I want, to whom I want.’

Mr. President, that is intended self-censorship by a professor of our university. By the way, did you know that the director of the Groningen Confucius Institute, Mrs. Cao, gave the same answer in a conversation with council members? A direct result of the Board’s policy, because they also submit to Chinese law just as easily. 

Another interesting passage from the Chinese law is ‘The seven unmentionables’ also called the Seven Taboos. These are seven subjects that Chinese academics are not allowed to discuss, not in China and not abroad. If they do, they are liable to punishment. These topics are:

The trias politica;

Economic neoliberalism;

Civil society;

The wealth of high-ups within the government;

Historical mistakes of the CCP, such as the massacre in Tiananmen Square;

Freedom of the press;

Universal values, such as human rights;

So they’re not allowed to talk about that. So that’s part of the Chinese law. The same law that the Board has declared that they will abide by.

And now I hear you think: Students and children can think critically themselves, can’t they? They learn Chinese, can’t they use that to read the critical stories that I’m describing here. In short, no, chairman. The students at the Confucius Institute do not learn the usual Chinese script. They learn simplified Chinese, a form of writing developed in the 1950s under Mao Zedong as the standard language for messages from the Communist Regime. The classical Chinese script was too difficult, the rabble didn’t understand the propaganda, so there had to be a way of communicating that they did understand. That’s what we teach our students and children. By the way, the simplified Chinese has the added advantage that countries like Taiwan, Hong Kong and Tibet do not use it; and so our students and the Chinese people will never be able to read these denunciations, issues and messages.

It is as if the Northern provincial councils would make Frisian or Lower Saxon their only language, so that the Northerners would no longer understand the Dutch-language newspapers and therefore would not be able to follow issues such as the Toeslagenaffair.

The council must understand that the Chinese Communist Party considers the Confucius Institute as its most important soft power and propaganda instrument in the West. And let there be no misunderstanding about this that the Communists use the same definition of soft power; by now we also call it sharp power. Where we talk about promotion on the basis of windmills, education rankings and tulips; with them it is about a manipulative form of diplomacy to influence the political system and image of another country. 

After all, why else would the CCP invest over 2 billion in the Confucius project, when in China 3 million children have no access to education out of poverty; while 30 million rural children had to quit school out of poverty; and 63 elementary school have to close every day out of lack of money. It is obvious that other motives are at play here, at least they are not interested in education.

The Confucius Institute has an umbrella organization, the former HANBAN, which falls directly under the Chinese Ministry of Education. From conversations with the director of our Confucius Institute, Mrs. Cao, it follows that the teachers and books in Groningen come from the so-called HANBAN pool, approved by the Chinese regime. This makes sense, because if you want lecturers to avoid the sensitive topics and issues of faith; then it is quite practical if you send trained lecturers for that purpose.

And then how should we interpret this foundation structure with the mayor on the board? Surely that indicates independence? No Chairman, the Chamber of Commerce registration of the Confucius Institute says nothing about the independence of education. Sinologist Frank Dikotter said, “The Confucius Institute is part of a one-party state, it is not independent. Its people are appointed by Beijing. It seems very innocent, but the Confucius Institute is part of a larger project. It is a directed attempt to gain influence and power abroad.” END QUOTE

I could give you countless more examples of censorship, they are also mentioned in the petition presented to the Board this morning. I could tell you about the billboards calling attention to the human rights violations in Hong Kong, which the students were not allowed to put up. I could tell you about the Chinese students who were intimidated at a lecture by other Chinese students because of their dislike of the Communist regime. I could tell you about the witch hunt that is currently being organized against petitioners on the Chinese platform WeChat.

But Chairman, I won’t. Because it is in the petition, you have been able to take note of it. These are all direct consequences of the sinophilic policies that are being pursued by this Board. Yes Chairman, sinophilia.

Because why else would you submit to Chinese law and Chinese courts? Knowing that the Trias Politica does not exist in China and that by doing so the Board is submitting to the will and arbitrariness of the Chinese Communist Party? You must remember that every Chinese law is made with the co-objective of maintaining the Communist Regime. 

So that leads to the fact that any comment on that regime will also immediately lead to the violation of that Chinese law. From which we can conclude that the Board is committed to not criticizing the Communist Regime in China. 

Now you may ask, isn’t this a standard provision in these types of contracts? No, it is not. And it could have been changed, because, for example, Leiden University or the Free University of Brussels chose to delete that clause from the contract. So it was a conscious choice to leave it in.

Chairman, this is all in black and white. Colleagues on the council can check it all out. It is a direct threat to our academic freedom. That is a fundamental freedom that the Board has an active duty to protect. 

I told you in September that our partner university in Jilin doesn’t take it very seriously either. For example, a twenty-year-old student was thrown in jail after his exchange because he had compared Xi Jin Ping to Winnie the Pooh on social media. Also, by this university, spreading pro-regime propaganda is considered an academic achievement.

Incidentally, this also applies to religious freedom which they don’t take very seriously, as professors and students are extradited by this university to detention camps if they follow a religion.  And the university administration cheerfully cooperates in organ trafficking of the prisoners.

The same was true in September, by the way, of Fudan University, another good partner with which FEB even has double-degree programs. They have simply scrapped academic freedom altogether; everything there is aimed at promoting the ideas of Xi Jin Ping. That’s literally in their statement of principles.

And so I could go on and on about the Chinese partner universities of the RUG. The Confucius partner university in Beijing is also busy sending staff to penal camps, human rights violations and spreading propaganda. 

When I asked human rights activists and sinologists at the University of Brussels, formerly also a Confucius partner, about the cooperation with our Confucius partner university (the Communication University in Beijing) in China, the answer was, “You in Groningen have a very big problem.

And that’s not surprising chairman, because communication universities in China train the broadcasting personnel for the CCP. They are literally the universities that teach the propagandists. And the people from that university, the Board now allows them to teach our children through the Confucius Institute.

So that’s Jilin University, Fudan University and Communication University. May I remind the Council that as recently as September the Board described these universities as good partners and that they saw no reason to scrutinize these developments? That they indicate they do not recognize the signals I outline here?

This while our parliament condemns and addresses China for the genocide it is committing in Xinjiang against the Uyghurs and acts jointly in this with Canada and the US. And we happily continue this cooperation? Are we naïve or ignorant?

The aforementioned leads to the conclusion that academic freedom in relation to China may not be assumed. Academic freedom must therefore be proven. The burden of proof in this is on the Board, they are responsible for ensuring academic freedom in these partnerships. Hence the following two questions:

Can the Board guarantee that students and staff can safely go to China and enjoy the full academic freedom there as we do in the Netherlands? 

Can the Board guarantee that students and staff can safely and freely teach and study at the Groningen Confucius Institute?

Let me make 1 thing clear in this. This is not a plea against Chinese students, but a plea against the interference of a totalitarian and dangerous regime within our university. Chinese remain welcome, communism is not.

In conclusion Chairman. I look forward to the Board’s response. But if today’s conclusion is that the Board cannot guarantee academic freedom. Then there is only 1 thing to do. Cut ties with these terrible institutions and boot them out of the administration building tonight. I will gladly help them pack, no matter how late it gets.