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Protect Academic Freedom at UCT: Investigate the Confucius Institute

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The Chinese government has an influence over education at the University of Cape Town. This is the same government who is responsible for the deaths of over 1 million Tibetans; imprisons and tortures thousands of citizens for exercising their freedom of expression; and teaches their school children that the Dalai Lama is evil.

Confucius Institutes (CIs) are Chinese government funded programs that claim to promote Chinese education and culture at universities and schools across the world. However, they have been accused of censorship and propaganda regarding topics such as Tibet, Taiwan and Tiananmen. There have been other complaints about Chinese state involvement too; for example it was discovered that the hiring policies of the McMaster University's CI banned association with the spiritual group Falun Gong. Multiple American univeristies have closed down their CIs; and in 2014 in Canada, trustees of the nation's largest school board voted overwhelmingly to cancel a potential deal that would have incorporated CIs into secondary schools across Toronto, Ontario. The Confucius Institutes are China’s soft power push inside our schools; the CI at the University of Cape Town (UCT) threatens our sovereignty and the academic freedom of UCT.

It is presumed that representatives of UCT would have signed a nondisclosure agreement with Hanban (the headquarter of CIs and a Chinese government agency) as part of their partnership. Article 5 of this type of agreement has typically stated that it “requires that Confucius Institute activities conform to the customs, laws and regulations of China as well as those of the host institution’s country.” This article clearly requires CI staff and fellows to abide by Chinese law, which includes statutes that contradict free expression, religious freedom and the human rights law of South Africa. Furthermore, it goes against the goal of academic freedom that UCT claims to aspire to uphold.

We demand that a formal investigation takes place regarding the Confucius Institute at UCT. Solutions proposed by SFT include: rejection of any agreements or terms requiring non-disclosure or compliance with Chinese law in any manner that is contrary to UCT’s values and the South African constitution; an open and transparent review of the Confucius Institute’s adherence to values compatible with UCT’s ethos; failing which we propose that UCT terminates its recognition of the current Confucius Institute and prohibits a new C.I from operating on UCT campus unless it agrees to acceptable values of free expression, religious freedom, tolerance and human rights in general.

We demand that we either have a constitutionally compatible Confucius Institute or don't have one at all. This is vital  for protecting academic freedom at the University of Cape Town. More than that, it demonstrates that South Africa will not bow down to the abusive Chinese state. South African history shows all too well the dangers of an education system created by an oppressive regime. We cherish our own hard-won freedom from oppression and tyranny and should stand by groups such as the Tibetan people, who continue to suffer similar injustice and ethnic oppression.

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