China U’? Confucius Institutes spread regime soft power – and censorship

Academic programs within U.S. universities are being shaped and censored by a secretive body, controlled by China’s ruling Communist party, that aspires to expand the regime’s soft power, a new report suggests.

Asked if the University of Chicago’s Confucius Institute had ever organized events on such controversial issues as Tibetan independence or the status of Taiwan, Ted Foss, the associate director of its Center for East Asian Studies, concedes, “I can put up a picture of the Dalai Lama in this office. But on the fourth floor, we wouldn’t do that.”

“The reason is that the Confucius Institutes at the University of Chicago and elsewhere are subsidized and supervised by the government of the People’s Republic of China,” says Marshall Sahlins, a Professor emeritus at the University of Chicago.

The CI program was launched by the PRC in 2004, and there are now some 400 institutes worldwide as well as an outreach program consisting of nearly 600 “Confucius classrooms” in secondary and elementary schools. …. But whereas the Goethe-Institut, like the British Council and the Alliance Française, is a stand-alone institution situated outside university precincts, a Confucius Institute exists as a virtually autonomous unit within the regular curriculum of the host school—for example, providing accredited courses in Chinese language in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago.

“There’s another big difference: CIs are managed by a foreign government, and accordingly are responsive to its politics,” Sahlins writes for The Nation.

Is this even legal?

The institutes’ constitutions and bylaws are supervised by the Beijing headquarters of the Chinese Language Council International, commonly known as Hanban, “an instrument of the party state operating as an international pedagogical organization,” he notes:

In larger universities hosting CIs, Hanban assumes responsibility for a portion of the total Chinese curriculum. In the more numerous smaller hosts, most or all of the instruction in Chinese language and culture is under its control. Hanban has the right to supply the teachers, textbooks and curriculums of the courses in its charge; it also names the Chinese co-directors of the local Confucius Institutes. Research projects on China undertaken by scholars with Hanban funds are approved by Beijing…..

Hanban operates under Chinese laws that criminalize forms of political speech and systems of belief that are protected in the United States by the First Amendment, making it likely that by adhering to Article 5, American universities would be complicit in discriminatory hiring or violations of freedom of speech. And because the constitution of the Confucius Institutes stipulates that it and its bylaws are “applicable to all Confucius Institutes,” the officers of host universities must accept the Chinese control of academic work in their institutions and agree to keep this arrangement secret. Is this even legal?

According to Communist party politburo member Li Changchun, the Confucius Institutes are “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up,” Sahlins observes:

A 2011 article in The People’s Daily, the organ of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, declared as much, boasting of the spread of the Confucius Institutes (331 at the time) alongside other indices of China’s ascent to world-political prominence, such as its annual growth rate of 8 percent, its technological and military accomplishments, and its newfound status as the second-largest economy in the world.

“For all the attention that the Confucius Institutes have attracted in the United States and elsewhere, there has been virtually no serious journalistic or ethnographic investigation into their particulars,” he writes.


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Rouhani – ‘the new Gorbachev’?


Where have I seen this play before? asks former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky.sharansky

The plotlines of what is happening with Iran today are familiar, he writes for The Wall Street Journal:

Thanks to firm and resolute measures by Western democracies, a fierce and aggressive dictatorship has been brought to the edge of bankruptcy and collapse. Suddenly a new leader arises. He looks different from his predecessors: warmer, more human. He speaks and acts differently…..

“As with Iran today, the economic and political crisis in the Soviet Union was real; so was the pressure exerted on the system from both within and without,” says Sharansky, the author of The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror:

Faced with the roiling frustration of its people, Moscow was desperately trying to preserve itself in power at home while simultaneously maintaining its status as a superpower abroad. Mr. Gorbachev, who understood the parlous circumstances in which his country stood, loosened some restrictions on speech and other forms of expression. He released a number of political prisoners and made vague promises of allowing free emigration.

Sure enough, these moves—instituted not to reform the communist system, but to rescue it from collapse—were met with near-ecstatic cheers from Western pundits and politicians, followed by calls for reciprocal “confidence-building” measures…

Fortunately, one of those alleged warmongers was Ronald Reagan, who along with knowledgeable and tough-minded senators like Henry Jackson (who died in 1983), had long understood that lifting sanctions without any concrete evidence of Soviet reform was precisely the wrong way to proceed. Under the policy known as linkage, famously embodied in the so-called Jackson Amendment of 1974, the U.S. government tied economic concessions to real, verifiable reforms.


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Cuba intercepted details of U.S. aid to dissidents?

Cuba’s Communist authorities are believed to have intercepted documents dispatched by the U.S. Agency for International Development containing “detailed information about U.S. government programs to help Cuban dissidents that Havana has outlawed,” Juan O. Tamayo writes for The Miami Herald:

The USAID request for proposal SOL-OAA-13-000110, posted publicly on July 10, offered a total of $6 million over three years, broken up into at least two grants of no more than $3 million and no less than $1 million.

Its goal was “to strengthen human capacity on the island by providing opportunities for civil society leaders to travel outside of Cuba to gain technical skills and experiential learning in an array of fields important to democracy and civil society development.”…..USAID officials called the applicants in late August to deliver the bad news: All their proposals had been sent on an unsecure line to Havana. One applicant quoted an agency official as saying, “We think the Cuban government may have seen all the proposals.”

The Washington-based Freedom House voluntarily surrendered a $1.7 million Cuba grant in 2011 after complaining that USAID was asking for too much information about how the funds were being spent, including the identities and travel plans of participants.

A U.S federal indictment unsealed in April accused former USAID attorney Marta Rita Velazquez of conspiracy to commit espionage on behalf of Cuba. She is living with her husband in Sweden, and has not been extradited.


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US groups mark 30 years of advancing democracy

Democracy has made numerous advances over the past three decades, thanks in part to the U.S.-based National Endowment for Democracy and its institutes, writes Voice of America’s Ken Klein.

“Our job, our responsibility, our mission, given by the Congress, is to be helpful, is to lend a helping hand. That’s what we do. But the main driving forces are inside those countries, and it’s basically the people in those countries,” said Carl Gershman, longtime president of the private, nonprofit group, which receives funds from Congress.

The NED and the affiliated National Democratic Institute, International Republican Institute, the labor movement’s Solidarity Center and the Center for International Private Enterprise.

“In most all of those countries, we work with the ruling party, the opposition parties, we work with the government, we work with civil society,” said NDI president Kenneth Wollack.

Gershman admits that democracy often is slow to take root, but it has global demand, Klein writes.

“Even in difficult countries like Saudi Arabia, or in North Korea, there are people, even there, who are trying to take the next step toward democracy. Over time, given enough time, I do think it’s inevitable. I do think it’s inevitable.”


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Why are human rights NGOs in BRICS not emerging?

Middle-income BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries are becoming more politically prominent and their increasing clout is reflected in such international arenas as the U.N. Human Rights Council, notes Lucia Nader, the Executive Director of Conectas Human Rights, a Brazil-based NGO with national and international projects.

It would be healthy to expect that human rights NGOs in the BRICS are also gaining in strength. Surprisingly, this is not so, at least in Brazil, she writes for Open Democracy.

Historically, human rights organizations in Brazil depended on international funding, particularly from bilateral cooperation agencies and development organizations linked to churches and political parties in the Northern Hemisphere. In the 1980s and ‘90s, experts claimed that some 80 percent of Brazilian human rights NGO budgets came from international funding.

After the global financial crisis of 2008 and Brazil’s graduation to middle-income status, at least 10 agencies withdrew their financial support, reformulated their priorities, or drastically reduced their allocations.

Today, experts estimate that between 40 percent and 50 percent of Brazilian human rights NGOs’ budgets come from international funding. The downward trend is clear. Some agencies and foundations continue investing in Brazilian human rights groups, including the OAK Foundation, Sigrid Rausing Trust, the Canadian International Development Research Center, and the Open Society Foundations. Some are investing in strengthening the ability of civil society in Southern countries to act internationally – the aim of the Ford Foundation’s “Strengthen Human Rights Worldwide” initiative.

Still, less international funds are available today for human rights work in Brazil.


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