Western universities are closing down Chinese-backed centers on campuses.
This week, the University of Helsinki terminated an agreement with the Confucius Institute, a Chinese language and culture teaching center on its campus.
Beijing would have liked to continue funding the program, according to the university’s vice-rector. Hanna Snellman.
“They asked if we would consider negotiating further. We said we wouldn’t,” he explained.
The institute’s agreement with the University of Helsinki expires next January.
Finland is not alone in its decision to secede from the Confucius network. In recent years, dozens of Western universities have closed the Confucius Institutes on suspicion that they are the arm of the Chinese government’s propaganda machinery.
Sweden and Denmark have also closed their Confucius Institute.
“We want to choose our own teachers and hire them ourselves. We also want Chinese language teaching to be research-based,” Snellman said.
The Chinese Embassy in Finland contacted the university about the closure.
“They would have liked the institute to continue,” he said.
In practice, the closure of the Confucius Institute means that the University of Helsinki will now have to organize its own Chinese language courses. Snellman told Yle that the university had already hired two teachers for the position.
“We want to strengthen our proficiency in Chinese because the need is greater than ever before,” he explained.
Confucius institutes specializing in Chinese language and culture have been criticized as part of Beijing’s soft power. These centers have been set up on about 500 university campuses around the world.
Workers appointed by the Chinese government have been suspected of spreading Chinese state propaganda in an attempt to reshape Western perceptions of China.
Two years ago, Yle’s research program Spotlight found that the Helsinki Confucius Institute tried to limit public debate on issues sensitive to the Chinese Communist Party, such as Tibet.
The Confucius Institute in Helsinki was established in 2007. Under the agreement, the University of Helsinki will elect and pay the salary of the director of the institute, while the Chinese government would appoint and cover the deputy director and three language teachers.
According to Yle, the University of Helsinki considered the role of deputy director to be “non-academic”, while ties with the Chinese embassy were considered too close.