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FM rejects Confucius Institute criticism  


2014-10-31 08:44 Global Times Web Editor: Qian Ruisha

Toronto school board cancels partnership, causes political speculation

China's foreign ministry Thursday spoke out against criticisms of China's Confucius Institutes after a Canadian school district ended its partnership with a Confucius Institute on Wednesday.

Trustees at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), which oversees public schools with around 232,000 pupils, severed its ties with the language and cultural program after teachers and students accused the Chinese government of using the program to "promote its political aims and restricting academic freedom," according to Canada's Globe and Mail.

Hong Lei, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, deflected the criticisms by saying that Confucius Institutes aim to promote Chinese culture and language, and strengthen mutual understanding between different countries.

The TDSB's move follows similar cancellations of Confucius Institute programs at some Canadian and US universities.

As the cancellation of the partnership came just days before Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's expected visit to Beijing for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders' forum, some have speculated that the move could strain bilateral relations.

Charles Burton, a professor at Canada's Brock University, was quoted by Reuters as saying that Beijing is certain to take note of the high-profile cancellation ahead of Harper's possible visit.

The agreement to set up the Toronto Confucius Institute was signed by the TDSB and Hunan Province's education department in April 2012.

Tang Xiuli, head of the Confucius Institute of Toronto, told the China News Service on October 24 that she was very disappointed about the criticisms made of the program.

The China News Service also quoted Tang as saying that the Hunan provincial education authorities had told the TDSB on October 23 to terminate the partnership as the TDSB did not follow the agreed-upon partnership deal.

However, the China News Service report has since been deleted from their website and the Hunan provincial educational authorities did not comment on the cancellation.

A total of 465 Confucius Institutes have been set up worldwide, with 13 located in Canada, according to Hanban, the Beijing based organization which manages the Confucius Institute initiative.

Hanban was not immediately available for comment regarding the TDSB's decision and the future of Sino-Canadian educational cooperation.

Chinese culture and language are well established in Canada; Chinese is the third most spoken language in the country, after English and French. About 10.5 percent of immigrants to Canada between 2006 and 2011 were from China, according to Statistics Canada, Reuters reported.

"[The cancellation] is not surprising is not surprising. North American countries view such cultural programs as part of the Chinese government's political strategy," Zhou Rongyao, a Canadian studies research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Thursday. Zhou also warned that the two countries should not overreact to this cancellation.

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