Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

What are Confucius Institutes, and why are they under the scanner in India?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Confucius Institutes

Mains level: India-China diplomatic spat since border skirmishes

  • The Ministry of Education (previously HRD) had sent a letter to several institutions seeking information about the activities of their Confucius Institutes (CIs) and Chinese language training centres.
  • This has brought the spotlight to China’s CI programme, a key pillar of Beijing’s global soft power effort, and raised questions about the future of India-China cooperation in the education space.

Try this question for mains:

Q.“It cannot be business as usual with China after the border clash.” Critically comment.

What are the Confucius Institutes (CI)?

  • Starting with a CI in Seoul in 2004, China’s National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language (NOCFL) known as Hanban establishes CI.
  • China has established 550 CIs and 1,172 Confucius Classrooms (CCs) housed in foreign institutions, in 162 countries.
  • As the Hanban explains on its website, following the experience of the British Council, Alliance Française and Germany’s Goethe-Institut, China began “establishing non-profit public institutions which aim to promote Chinese language and culture in foreign countries”.

What is the presence of CIs in India?

  • India is reviewing the presence of CIs in seven universities, in addition to 54 MoUs on inter-school cooperation involving China, which is not connected to the CI programme.

How have CIs been viewed around the world?

  • The CI arrangement has generated debate in the West, where some universities have closed the institutes amid concern over the influence of the Chinese government and it’s funding on host institutions.
  • Closures of some CIs have been reported in the United States, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Sweden.
  • While the closures in the West have made news, these cases still represent a minority. Faced with this backlash, China is now rebranding the programme.
  • Most of the 550 CIs and more than 1,000 CCs around the world are still active, with a presence spanning Africa, Central Asia, Latin America, and across Asia.

What does it mean for India-China relations?

  • CIs and CCs had already been in India for more than 10 years.
  • Even prior to the border skirmishes, Indian authorities had viewed the CI arrangement somewhat warily.
  • Along with the new move to review CIs, Mandarin has been dropped from the list of foreign languages that can be taught in schools in the new National Education Policy.

Not a perfect move

  • Recent moves by India shows that it cannot be business as usual with China after the border clash.
  • However, India’s long-term objectives are not clear.
  • De-emphasizing learning Mandarin is neither likely to impact China’s stance on the border nor help India in developing the expertise and resources it needs in dealing with China.

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