During the leadership contest with former PM Liz Truss in July, Rishi Sunak pledged to “kick the CCP out of our universities”, accusing Truss of being “too soft” on China.
Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and minister for Security Tom Tugendhat said in parliament this week that the current prime minister “will be looking to close” the centres across UK campuses.
“Confucius Institutes pose a threat to civil liberties in many universities in the UK,” he said during a debate in the House of Commons. There are currently some 30 Confucius Institutes in the UK.
The US, Japan, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark have already begun to phase-out the centres, and during the debate on November 1, Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith said that without action, the UK will “look like we are dragging our feet compared with our neighbours”.
“We have testimony from endless people, we have a Chinese government who have set up these police stations,” he stated.
“We have Confucius Institutes bullying Chinese students here”
“We have Confucius Institutes bullying Chinese students here, we have seen them beaten up on the streets in the UK, and we wonder very much whether they feel safe,” Duncan Smith continued, referring to an incident in Manchester in October where a pro-democracy protester from Hong Kong was beaten by unidentified men at the Chinese consulate.
“Will he therefore take back to the government, and to the Foreign Office, the message that it is high time they showed some strength and acted immediately to get rid of the diplomats responsible in Manchester, to investigate these police stations and kick them out, and to do the same with the Confucius Institutes?” he appealed to the minister.
Tugendhat confirmed that an assessment “will be coming forward urgently”.
However, not everyone agrees that sharp action against China would be in the UK’s interest.
Director of the China Institute at SOAS University of London, Steve Tsang, recently told The Telegraph that the UK government needs a “proper China strategy”.
“My view is that it is unwise for the UK government to declare China a threat formally, as it will trigger some form of retaliation from Xi [Jinping]’s ultra-nationalist government that brands any government doing so as anti-China,” he told the paper.