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UK: Taiwan may be Confucius solution

Newly-installed UK prime minister Liz Truss is signalling a new direction for Chinese language in the UK, as talks are in the mix to replace Confucius Institutes with teachers from Taiwan. 
September 23 2022
3 Min Read

Newly-installed UK prime minister Liz Truss is signalling a new direction for Chinese language in the UK, as talks are in the mix to replace Confucius Institutes with teachers from Taiwan. 

As part of an operation between cross-party MPs, the CIs will be gradually “phased-out” to make way for less controversial Mandarin teaching in the UK.

Campaigners have lobbied for the closure of the UK’s 30 remaining CIs, all of which former PM hopeful Rishi Sunak promised to axe if he got the top job. 

“For Taiwan, after years of neglecting the importance of deepening ties with other countries through language and cultural exchange programs, this can help increase Taiwan’s visibility in the UK,” William Yang, president of the Taiwan Foreign Correspondents’ Club, told The PIE News. 

“This can help increase Taiwan’s visibility”

“I think this is a positive move for both the UK and Taiwan. Several other cases around the world have shown that CIs often acts as more than just a language and cultural exchange institution on university campuses around the world. 

“There have been instances in other countries where the CI will align the content of their curriculum with the Chinese government’s official policy by inserting propaganda into their curriculum,” Yang explained.

It comes, as Yang said, that other countries, citing the growing influences by government policy in CIs, have moved to close more sites or lobby against their authority in the international Chinese learning sphere. 

Campaigners in the US recently pushed for the US government to crack down on “residual” influence in CIs, and last year Japan began an investigation into operations at the sites still operating in the country.

The alternative programs in Taiwan that would be used in lieu of the CIs have yet to be announced.

The initiative was first discussed when Conservative MP and House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee member Alicia Kearns “called on Taiwan to play a bigger role in teaching Mandarin in the UK”, as more politicians, including Truss, voiced their concern regarding the influence of the Chinese Communist Party on learning. 

Kearns said in an interview in June that the hope is the government in Taiwan “comes proactively to the British government” as a less controversial alternative for teaching Mandarin to British people.

Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge and Malling, also called for CIs to be closed in a parliamentary session in June.

“They are agencies of a hostile state through the United Front Work Department,” he said. “We have got used to the actions that it has been taking in seeking influence, in the most extraordinary propaganda operation that the world has ever seen, and we have got used to the pernicious effect on our own community.”

In the same session, Kearns suggested that the UK could look to Taiwan for education in Mandarin “given that Taiwanese people speak Mandarin and write a higher level of more ancient Chinese”.

Kearns also, according to the Taipei Times, more recently has “proposed an amendment to the Higher Education Bill which would give the government the power to shut down the CIs” at British institutions, citing “academic freedom concerns”.

The development of Taiwan’s involvement comes as the country has more conversations about China’s alleged “aggression” against its independence.

In a pre-recorded interview with the US program 60 Minutes, the country’s president Tsai Ing-Wen said that the stakes are high, and the country’s future depends on many factors.

“I foresee the transition to take a while”

“We have to educate ourselves on the authoritarian playbook and understand that Taiwan’s democracy will not be the only thing that the PRC seeks to extinguish. Securing Taiwan’s democracy is imperative in securing freedom and human rights for our collective future,” Ing-Wen said.

While Taiwan’s Chinese is slightly different, the transition, Yang says, should allow schools to be able to complete the change. 

“I foresee the transition to take a while as students will need to switch to learning traditional characters that are used in Taiwan, which are different from the simplified characters used in China. 

“Additionally, there may also be discussion about what should be included in the curriculum as it’ll be unlikely for Taiwan to continue the program simply based on the previous curriculum managed by the Chinese government,” Yang added.

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