I'm sticking with propaganda center -- final answer
April 28, 2010 - To begin with, I must respectfully disagree with the title of Mr. White's opinion piece, "Confucius Institutes are a resource, not a 'propaganda center."
As I stated in my previous column, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) boss Li Changchun was quoted in The Economist (Oct. 22, 2009) as saying Confucius Institutes are "an important part of China's overseas propaganda set-up."
I suggest Mr. White send a letter to Li Changchun correcting him, too.
Now, I alone can't argue with Mr. White because fact is, I'm just a simple country newspaper editor who ain't been all over this big ol' world.
So, I'll let Professor Jocelyn Chey do much of my arguing for me.
Chey is a visiting professor at the University of Sydney in Australia. For more than 20 years, she worked on Australia-China relations in the Departments of Trade and Foreign Affairs. She was posted three times in China and Hong Kong, concluding with an appointment as Consul-General in Hong Kong from 1992-95. She is a frequent speaker and lecturer on Chinese affairs.
Back in November 2007, she gave an address that I feel is quite relevant here. It was entitled "Chinese 'Soft Power': Cultural Diplomacy and the Confucius Institutes."
Soft power is defined as the ability to persuade through culture, values and ideas as opposed to hard power, which is dependent on military might.
In her speech, Chey asserted that the communist nation is using soft power to influence the world.
"The objective is to secure wide support for China from overseas Chinese, from the international community in general and from business and opinion leaders in turn, so that these in turn may influence the development of U.S. foreign policy in ways favourable to Beijing," she said.
Chey noted, "In recent years, the (Communist) Party has learned to use propaganda tools domestically and abroad to shape public opinion and to implement government policy. Combined with economic and trade incentives, the effectiveness of China's cultural diplomacy can be measured by public opinion polls. For instance, polls carried out by the Lowy Institute here show a decline in the perception of China as a threat to peace and security with a parallel decline in attitudes towards the United States."
With regard to Confucius Institutes – which are most definitely part of this soft power approach – Chey quoted an interesting passage from author Anne-Marie Brady's 2007 book entitled "Marketing Dictatorship: Propaganda and Thought Work in Contemporary China."
Brady wrote, "China's Confucius Institutes are strategically located in various foreign universities, allowing Chinese authorities to have an element of control over the study of China and Chinese language at these Western universities that they would not normally have."
I have no problem with U.S. students learning Chinese language or culture. I do have a problem with us working so closely with the Chinese government to do it. I believe our students can learn all about China without getting into bed with its evil, monstrous government.
Mr. White argues that Confucius Institutes "are all very different, there is no uniform approach, no specific directives or directions from China."
The Confucius Institute's Constitution and By-Laws state they "can be established in various ways, with the flexibility to respond to the specific circumstances and requirements found in different countries."
But don't for a second think there's zero control by the Chinese government.
The Confucius Institute program is administered by the Office of Chinese Language Council International (commonly known as Hanban), which is linked to the Chinese Ministry of Education and governed by representatives of that ministry and several other government departments.
The Constitution and By-Laws, which are "applicable to all Confucius Institutes worldwide," clearly show there is a degree of control by the Chinese government.
According to the governing document, "All Confucius Institutes shall observe . . . the obligation to accept both supervision from and assessments made by the Headquarters."
The headquarters is in Beijing and "is the regulatory body that provides guidelines to the Confucius Institutes worldwide."
The Constitution/By-Laws also states, "The Confucius Institute Headquarters shall be responsible for conducting assessments of individual Confucius Institutes. The Headquarters reserves the right to terminate the Agreements with those Institutes that violate the principles or objectives, or fail to reach the teaching quality standards set forth by the head establishment."
And by the way, the Beijing headquarters "reserves the right to interpret this Constitution and By-Laws."
So basically, the Boys in Beijing can supervise, assess, regulate, set guidelines for and pull the plug on these institutes and by the way, only they can interpret the Constitution and By-Laws they wrote. I'm no lawyer, but all that sounds like control to me.
The part of the Constitution/By-Laws that bothers me the most states that Confucius Institutes "shall not contravene [i.e. oppose or contradict] concerning the laws and regulations of China."
Granted, that language is immediately preceded by the statement that all Confucius Institutes "shall abide by the laws and regulations of the countries in which they are located."
But given how different the U.S. and China are – i.e. our laws respect and acknowledge freedom and rights whereas theirs absolutely do not – I honestly can't see how these two statements can be reconciled.
No matter how much the Chinese people love us, admire us or want to work with us, as Mr. White asserts, the fact remains their government has not changed and suddenly become a good guy we can trust.
According to Chey, "China remains a one-party state and the Chinese Communist Party has no intention to relinquish power. On the contrary, the Party is stiffening ideological controls, for instance, improving the technology and staff resources devoted to regulating the use of the internet in the lead up to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, including banning discussion of certain subjects such as the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre or the activities of the Falun Gong Sect."
The idea that doing business with China will somehow bring about change in their government is naive at best.
"Domestically, the CCP aims to raise living standards while maintaining a one-party government," Chey said. "This policy is linked with the conduct of international relations because it cannot be achieved without securing access to needed raw materials for economic growth, maintaining a peaceful environment and eliminating external threats."
By doing business with China, we are only enhancing the government's power and control.
The CCP believes if it keeps the Chinese people's material needs satisfied, they'll be less likely to revolt.
Capitalism doesn't automatically lead to political freedom and democratic government. This was even noted by the late free-market economist Milton Friedman.
"Over the centuries, many non-free societies have relied on capitalism and yet have enjoyed neither human nor political freedom," said Friedman, citing ancient Greece, the U.S. South prior to the Civil War, South Africa under apartheid and many Latin American countries as examples.
As I wind down this very, very long column, I would like to take personal issue with a few things Mr. White wrote.
The statement which offended me the most was, "It is easy to disagree with some of the policies of the (Chinese) central government, just as many people around the world disagree with policies of our government."
To that I would say all of the mistakes and wrongdoing that have been committed by the U.S. government in its 234-year history cannot even begin to compare to the state-sanctioned murder and tyranny that's been carried out by the Chinese government against millions and millions of innocent people and is still being carried out to this day.
I cannot believe that anyone could seriously attempt to equate the actions of these two governments.
Finally, I do not advocate isolationism when it comes to China. On the contrary, I believe America should vigorously oppose the Chinese government militarily, politically, economically and morally.
I do not believe in appeasing aggressive totalitarian regimes, turning a blind-eye to their atrocities or making friends with them for the sake of supposed peace and prosperity.
Spineless world leaders tried that in Munich, Germany in 1938 with disastrous consequences.
Evil must be opposed, not made a business partner.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.