Indian orogin UK Prime Minister contender and former Bristish Cancellor Rishi Sunak had pledged to close the Confusius Instituties in the United Kingdom in a bid to win over Coservative members votes. The 42-year-old former Chancellor set out a series of plans he would undertake if elected the prime minister, including building a new NATO-style military alliance of “free nations” to defend against Chinese “technological aggression”.
China 'Largest Threat to Britain'
On Monday, Sunak called China the "largest threat" to Britain and the world’s security and prosperity this century and accused it of also having targeted countries like the US and India.
“I would close all 30 of China’s Confucius Institutes in the UK – the highest number in the world," said Sunak as part of his Conservative Party leadership campaign pitch to win over members’ votes.
“China and the Chinese Communist Party represent the largest threat to Britain and the world’s security and prosperity this century… I will build a new international alliance of free nations to tackle Chinese cyber-threats and share best practice in technology security,” he said.
The attack on Confusius Institutes is being seen as part of Sunak's larger proposed strategy under the "Ready4Rishi" campaignto form a broad alliance between nations like US and India which have anagoonistic relations to counter the rising influence of ther Asian superpower.
What are Confusius Institutes?
The Confucius Institutes are funded and run by the Chinese government and are meant to be culture and language centres in foreign nations to inclulcate and spread study and appreciation of Chinese culture, arts and heritage. Critics, however, have often claimed that these centres act as propaganda tools amid souring relations between China and the West. The US Department of State in 2020 designated Confucius Institutes as foreign mission of the Chinese state and called it “Chinese Communist Party’s global influence and propaganda apparatus”.
Since their inception in South Korea’s Seoul in 2004, Confucius Institutes have enrolled up to 9 million students at 525 institutes in 146 countries and regions, as per the Heritage Foundation. In 2018, Politico magazine reported that the Chinese government was pouring in up to $10 billion annually into the initiative.
There are 30 Confucius Institutes in the UK – the highest number in the world. If he came to power, Sunak has promised to ban them all.
Why Sunak wants to close Chinese learning centres
In UK, Sunak has accused China of stealing British technology and infiltrating universities while "propping up [Russian President] Putin's fascist invasion of Ukraine", bullying Taiwan and contravening human rights in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, as well as suppressing the British currency to continually rig the global economy in their favour.
He also claimed that the UK government spending on Mandarin language teaching at school is channelled through university-based Confucius Institutes, thereby promoting Chinese soft power.
Sunak intensifies attack on China
Sunak, who is on an intense campaign trail to beat Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to the top Downing Street job to replace Boris Johnson, focussed his message on China’s aggressive policies on Monday ahead of a key televised debate on the BBC and also pledged to expand the reach of Britain’s security services to keep its “industrial espionage” in check. He has also committed to reviewing all UK-Chinese research partnerships that could assist China technologically or have military applications.
Among the many concessions promised, Sunak said he will increase the MI5’s reach to provide greater support to British businesses and universities to counter Chinese industrial espionage and oversee the creation of a toolkit to help companies protect their intellectual property,” he said.
He also pledged to lead the world in standing up to China's "technological aggression" by amending the Higher Education Bill to force British universities to disclose any foreign funding partnerships of more than 50,000 pounds.
Sunak's attack on China comes in the wake of accusations by the opposing team accused that he was "soft" on China as Chancellor.
Liz Truss' spokesperson has previously said she had "strengthened Britain's position on China" since becoming Foreign Secretary and "helped lead the international response to increased Chinese aggression". Sunak's hard line on China might also be in response to Truss' own reputation as a China hawk. Truss herself has slammed Sunak's attacks on China as a reveal of his previous stance.
(With inputs from Agencies)