'Unfair': China criticises decision to axe Chinese-funded program in NSW public schools


China has urged Australia to 'not politicise normal exchange projects'.

China says the NSW government's decision to axe a Chinese government-funded school program in NSW public schools is "unfair" and "disrepectful".

The NSW Department of Education is scrapping a Chinese government-funded language and culture program running in more than a dozen state public schools, following concerns about foreign political influence.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the decision by the NSW government was made without consulting the Chinese government.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang.

"This is neither respectful nor fair to local people and students. It is not conducive to Sino-Australian cultural exchanges."

He urged the NSW government to avoid politicising 'normal exchange projects'.

"This is a concern," he told reporters in Bejing.

"We hope that the relevant people and departments in Australia and New South Wales will respect the Chinese co-organisers, cherish the cooperation results of the two sides, not politicise normal exchange projects, and do more things that are beneficial to China-Australia friendship and mutual trust [sic]."

Critics of the Confucius Institute initiative, which is funded and overseen by the Chinese government, argue the program is being used to spread Chinese Communist Party propaganda in Australian classrooms.

The education program is an initiative of Hanban - a Chinese government agency - and its Confucius Institute in Beijing.

It is currently run in 13 NSW primary and secondary schools.

The NSW state government launched a review last year following concerns about political influence, with the results released on August 22, 2019.

While the review did not find any evidence of actual political influence being exercised by the Chinese government, it did note some aspects of the program "could give rise to the perception that the Confucius Institute is or could be facilitating inappropriate foreign influence in the department".

'Unwise and problematic'

"The primary concern is the fact that the NSW Department of Education is the only government department in the world that hosts a Confucius Institute, and that this arrangement places Chinese government appointees inside a NSW government department," it said.

"To informed observers, the placement of an institute with foreign government involvement inside a government department is both unwise and problematic within the good governance expectations of our democratic political system."

In a statement, the NSW Education Department said it would be scrapping the program in all 13 public schools and instead replacing it with a new Chinese language program run by the department, by the year's end.

"Schools will have certainty and clarity by getting a six-month transition to the Chinese language classes I have announced,” department secretary Mark Scott said in a statement.

The review found that two board members of the Confucius Institute were also Chinese Communist Party secretaries.

"This, combined with the fact that there are more Chinese members on the Board than (NSW) departmental members, could raise the perception that the Confucius Institute is facilitating foreign influence at a senior level within the department," the review said.

The review noted the experience of one Sydney mum of Taiwanese background who avoided enrolling her daughter in a school that provided the program because she was concerned the program was teaching simplified Chinese characters rather than traditional characters used in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Who pays for it?

Hanban gave the department US$150,000 (A$220,000) to open the institute and US$10,000 (A$14,000) for each school that launches a Confucius classroom. It also pays for teaching materials and the salary of one teacher approved by the Chinese government for each classroom.

The review found that funding these teachers is an "uncommon" arrangement because Hanban does not pay these types of "volunteer" teachers in other parts of the world.

Hanban also pays to host cultural immersion events such as 'China Day', the Moon Festival Celebration, Dragon Boat Festival among others.

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