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Swedish university closes Europe's 1st Confucius Institute

2015-01-13 09:52 China.org.cn Web Editor: Li Yan
The building used by the Confucius Institute at Stockholm University [Photo/Stockholm University]

The building used by the Confucius Institute at Stockholm University [Photo/Stockholm University]

The Confucius Institute at Sweden's Stockholm University will be closed this June, according to a press statement posted on the university website on Jan 7. The Institute, established in 2005, is the first branch of the Institute established in Europe and the second in the world.

According to the statement, the agreement between the Confucius Institute and Stockholm University "expired at the end of 2014 and will not be renewed." The Institute will be closed on June 30, 2015.

"The situation is different today compared with ten years ago. At that time, the institute created an opening for increased contact with China, which was important to us. Today we have a completely different level of academic exchange with China, which makes this collaboration redundant," the statement said.

"Generally speaking, establishing institutes that are funded by another nation within the framework of a university is rather a questionable practice," the statement quoted University Vice-Chancellor Astrid Söderbergh Widding as saying in a comment to the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter.

The Confucius Institutes are jointly funded by China and the universities which host them.

Deriving its name from the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius (551–479 B.C.), the Institute teaches Chinese language and culture at universities around the world, much like Britain's British Council, France's Alliance Française or Germany's Goethe-Institut. Currently, there are about 480 such institutes around the globe, with the most in the United States, South Korea and Japan.

As the Confucius Institute has expanded over the past ten years, however, some have begun to think of it as part of China's effort to ratchet up its "soft power," raising concerns that it will interfere with academic freedom.

Several universities in the United States, Canada and other countries have also terminated their agreements with the Institute and some have opposed establishing branches of the Institute at new host universities. Last June, the American Association of University Professors issued a statement urging US universities to cease collaboration with Confucius Institutes, prompting media attention and debate in the US

Cui Hongjian, head of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told China's newspaper Global Times on Jan. 11 that some Westerners still have ideological bias against China and assume that the government-led Confucius Institute is a tool for China to export its ideology. Contemporary China and its achievements are bound to be topics of conversation in classrooms at the Institute, but some interpret this as part of China's effort to export its ideology, he said.

But Cui also noted that the Institute should also reflect on its global promotion and operation as well. For instance, it should be more diverse in its teaching modes and should adapt more to the culture of the host countries, he added.

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