Chinese govt-funded Confucius Institute continuing activities in Estonia

  • 2022-06-23
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN - While the universities of several countries neighboring Estonia have terminated their cooperation with the Confucius Institute funded by the Chinese government, Tallinn University is currently planning to continue its cooperation with the institute as it does not see any reason not to do so, Postimees reports. 

Finland's public broadcaster Yle reported this week that the University of Helsinki is terminating its cooperation with the Confucius Institute, a Chinese government funded program geared at teaching the Chinese language and culture in universities across the world. 

Vice-rector at the University of Helsinki Hanna Snellman said that Beijing had wanted to continue funding the institute's activities, however, the university refused further cooperation. The institute's agreement with the university expires in January 2023. 

In addition to Finland, several other western states, such as Sweden and Denmark, have likewise given up cooperation with the Confucius Institute over suspicions of the Chinese government using the institute as a part of its propaganda machine. 

"We want to pick and hire our own lecturers. We also want the teaching of the Chinese language to be research-based," Snellman said. To this end, the university has already hired two lecturers.

The Confucius Institute has been accused of being a tool of Beijing. The employees of the institute, hired by the Chinese government, are believed to be disseminating Chinese political propaganda to change the West's view of China. The institute has branches in nearly 500 universities across the globe. 

In Estonia, the Confucius Institute is cooperating with Tallinn University. The local branch of the institute under Tallinn University is managed by Anete Elken, a former cultural representative and official of the Estonian embassy in Beijing. Elken told Postimees that the university is not currently planning to end its cooperation with the institute.

"The university takes security threats seriously and in our assessment, the cooperation agreement between Tallinn University and our Chinese partner, the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics (SUFE), contains enough instruments to prevent them from materializing," she said. 

Elken said that the university has a clear overview of the contents of the courses organized by the institute and that the university also has a right of veto and the power to make all budgetary and personnel-related decisions. 

Because of pandemic-related restrictions, only two Chinese lecturers have come to Estonia through the institute over the past couple of years and consequently, SUFE has proposed that Tallinn University should hire the lecturers itself without the partner's mediation. The costs of recruitment are covered by the Confucius Institute.

Finding Chinese speaking professionals is difficult in Estonia and its neighboring countries because they prefer to engage in employment in other areas outside teaching, such as in diplomacy, security or commerce, according to Elken.

Thus, Tallinn University has stuck to its earlier model of SUFE holding competitions in China for teachers of Chinese with a master's degree. SUFE first picks a number of suitable candidates based on their language skills and previous experience after which Tallinn University will conduct interviews with them.

"The teachers work in Estonia for two to three years but if any incidents occur or the teacher is unable to to their job, Tallinn University has the right to terminate their contract," Elken said. 

With the Confucius Institute supporting the provision of instruction, Tallinn University is performing an important task for the Estonian society by preparing experts on China who have the capability to work with sources in the Chinese language and speak Chinese as part of their work, she added.