The Indian government, which launched a review of Indian chapters of Confucius Institutes in the country, has narrowed its focus to two centres operating out of Kolkata and Mumbai, people familiar with the development said on condition of anonymity.
The review was launched earlier this month after security agencies on July 15 sounded out the government about their concerns around the growing Chinese influence in higher education and culture.
On August 13, the US designated the HQ of the Confucius Institutes in the US, in Washington as a foreign mission of the People’s Republic of China citing the “opacity of this organisation and its state-directed nature” as the reaons for the designation.
China has insisted all along that these institutes, present around the world, are mainly vehicles to propagate Chinese culture and language, although many countries believe they have other far more sinister objectives.
Australia, for instance, had cracked down on the institutes last year.
The Confucius Institutes are directly funded by the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China.
The Indian review exercise covered 54 agreements signed by Indian universities and colleges with Chinese institutions. The initial assessment has revealed that many Indian educational institutions entered into agreements with universities in China without mandatory approvals from the central government.
At the first high-level meeting held at the education ministry on August 5, officials said two Confucius institutes associated with the Mumbai university and Kolkata’s School of Chinese Language came in for particular attention as they were involved in elaborate student exchange programme.
“There is a proposal to take a close, hard look at the activities of the two institutes,” said a government official, one of the people familiar with the matter. “There are some facts that came to our attention during the review which we feel require deeper scrutiny,” said the official. A second official said the matter needed further probe before any action can be initiated.
Vibha Surana, director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Mumbai, was unavailable for a comment on the review.
She had earlier said the institute hasn’t faced any trouble in its functioning.
“The Institute first started eight years ago with a grant that came from the Chinese government of about ₹90 lakh. Ever since there’s been no additional grants, we have managed to keep the Institute up and running by increasing courses. We have six levels of the course and five of those are functioning well. More and more students are approaching the Institute as learning the language has opened many job prospects for students in the past,” Surana had said.
A representative of Kolkata’s School of Chinese Language also did not respond to queries for a comment.
India put the spotlight on the Chinese educational institutes against the backdrop of the 100-day-long stand-off between armies of the two countries in East Ladakh. The face-off, triggered by Beijing’s aggressive moves along the Line of Actual Control, coincided with Beijing’s provocative statements in context of its disputes with its other neighbours over South China Sea that have prompted retaliatory steps by the United States.
In one such move, the Donald Trump administration on Thursday tightened the screws on Confucius institutes in the United States, ordering that they should be treated as a foreign mission and not an academic institution.
“The United States wants to ensure that students on US campuses have access to Chinese language and cultural offerings free from the manipulation of the Chinese Communist Party and its proxies,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
There are currently 75 Confucius Institutes operating in the United States of America, 65 of which are active on US university campuses, with the rest functioning as stand-alone organisations.