German university refutes criticism over Confucius Institute funding

By Li Sikun and Chen Xi Published: 2020/2/14 5:39:18

Photo: Screenshot of official website of Free University of Berlin

Germany’s Free University of Berlin (FU) issued a statement earlier this week in response to criticism over a signed contract that was presumably “bound by Chinese law,” with school officials reiterating they are not restricted by Chinese government policies through the China-founded endowment. 

The accusations stem from a contract FU officials signed with the Confucius Institute in China in 2017 aimed at establishing a “Chinese didactics and Chinese Language and Literature” professorship for a Chinese-teacher training program.

According to the terms of the five-year contract, the Confucius Institute would provide the university a certain amount of money to launch an undergraduate program titled "Chinese and Chinese Society" and recruit qualified employees. 

After the initial five-year period, FU would adjust its teaching budget to support the new professor chair, according to an official statement from the Confucius Institute Headquarters sent to the Global Times on Thursday.

Local German media distorted facts, claiming the professorship was aimed at promoting Chinese culture in Germany, and that cultural exchanges between both countries had become a "Chinese-controlled propaganda platform.” The Chinese government funding was seen as an attempt at "interfering with the freedom of teaching in this university."

According to a news report from a German media Deutschlandfunk last month, Free Democratic Party member Jens Brandenburg thought the university was using German tax revenue to serve as "important players in China's soft power policy" for "Chinese-style diplomacy.”

According to the statement, the university said the professorship funded by the Confucius Institute Headquarters for FU was not a special case because it is common for other nations to disseminate their language and culture through government-funded institutes and professorships. 

Germany is one of the most active countries in the world that supports over 400 domestic and international lecturers, including those in the People's Republic of China through DAAD or the German Academic Exchange Service.

Media agency Die Tagespost recently reported on the concerns over the Confucius Institute’s influence in Germany. The report quoted a letter that sinologist David Missal sent to FU that said, "as alumni of the Free University of Berlin, we are very concerned about the scientific independence of our alma mater.”

The statement said that well-known sinologist Dr Andreas Guder had been appointed as the new professor for the academic post. The appointment process for this position was consistent with similar positions at FU. 

"Confucius Institute Headquarters is not involved in the selection and recruitment process of invited candidates and has never attempted to exert any influence,” the statement also read.

The statement reiterated that any actions and statements from FU would not be restricted by Chinese government policies and would not be subject to China's academic freedom.

The Free University of Berlin, founded in 1948, has continued to work with institutions and international scientists and has always worked across ideological boundaries. It guards against accusations the university relied on such cooperation, read the statement.

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