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China's Confucius Institutes facing calls to leave Korea

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Members of the Citizens for Unveiling Confucius Institutes (CUCI) hold an open press conference in front of the Chinese Embassy in Seoul on June 2. They accused Confucius Institutes of brainwashing young Koreans with Chinese Communist Party's ideology, urging all CIs in Korea to close. Courtesy of CUCI
Members of the Citizens for Unveiling Confucius Institutes (CUCI) hold an open press conference in front of the Chinese Embassy in Seoul on June 2. They accused Confucius Institutes of brainwashing young Koreans with Chinese Communist Party's ideology, urging all CIs in Korea to close. Courtesy of CUCI

Civic group leader says CIs are China's propaganda arm in the guise of language and culture program

By Kang Hyun-kyung

A group of nine middle-aged activists gathered in front of the Chinese Embassy in Seoul on June 2, accusing the Chinese government of its alleged use of the state-funded Confucius Institutes (CIs) to infiltrate Korean universities and high schools to disseminate the Chinese Communist Party's propaganda.

Calling the institute China's global network established for espionage and brainwashing locals to support China's policies, the activists urged China to close the institutes on their own, before they are forced to leave.

"Despite its title, there are no Confucian ideas whatsoever in the institute," Han Min-ho, founder and president of the Citizens for Unveiling Confucius Institutes (CUCI), said in a prepared statement. "What's in there is the ghost of Mao Zedong. Mao haunts there, trying to tinge young Koreans with red."

Han teamed up with several like-minded people last year to launch the cause-driven civic group CUCI and has since put pressure on the Korean government and politicians to collaborate with universities to close the CIs which officially aim to "promote Chinese language and culture." "Nationwide, our members are nearly 100 people. People are from all walks of life. Professors, housewives, lawyers and pastors are part of us," Han told The Korea Times.

Han, 59, himself was a former official of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and had worked with the ministry for 20 years after passing the state exam to select government officials. He was dismissed two years ago after he publicly addressed several times the Moon Jae-in government's policy failures. "They said I violated the code of conduct for government employees, claiming I breached the duty to maintain dignity. They said I was lazy. None of which is true," he said, adding he's in a legal battle against the government over his dismissal.

Han Min-ho, founder and president of CUCI, is a former culture ministry official. He was dismissed two years ago for violating code of conduct for government employees. He claimed he was retaliated against after he publicly addressed the Moon Jae-in government's policy failures. Courtesy of CUCI
Han Min-ho, founder and president of CUCI, is a former culture ministry official. He was dismissed two years ago for violating code of conduct for government employees. He claimed he was retaliated against after he publicly addressed the Moon Jae-in government's policy failures. Courtesy of CUCI

Like him, Han said, other CUCI members are likeminded people who are concerned about the Chinese Communist Party's politically motivated use of the state-sponsored institutes to increase its presence and influence Koreans' way of thinking in favor of China.

Han alleged that Confucius Institutes are China's propaganda arm in the guise of language and cultural institutes.

He and other CUCI members decided to take to the streets to sound the alarm on the dangers of China's cultural infiltration.

The rally in front of the Chinese Embassy last week was part of their effort to raise the Korean public's awareness of the reality of CIs and join hands to push them to leave Korea. "We thought it's time to launch the anti-CI campaign because there're so many CIs in this country but few people seem to be aware of their real intent," Han said.

He accused the Korean government, politicians and university authorities of being ignorant of China's real intentions and having failed to take appropriate measures to stop its cultural infiltration. According to him, the Korean government turned a deaf ear to their requests to take necessary measures against CIs and the situation in the National Assembly is not quite different.

"We've warned lawmakers of the danger of CIs and their presence in Korea and sent all 300 lawmakers reports based on our findings. But only one of them has replied to us and the other 299 were unresponsive," he said. What's worse is that no university presidents have ever responded to his group's request to rethink CIs on their campuses, he went on to say.

Han said the CUCI plans to prioritize the shutdown of CIs operating on the campuses of six national universities.

Like other members of "Generation 586," a term referring to people who were born in the 1960s, went to college in the 1980s and are currently in their 50s, Han himself was a student activist fighting for democracy when he was a college student.

He said he had spent the entire decade of his 20s doing research and studying Marxism-Leninism to understand communism. "I concluded that communism is dangerous and its impact on people is toxic," he said.

Han became an avid reader of international news about the Confucius Institutes for many years and came to learn that the institutes were allegedly used as China's state-sponsored campaign to disseminate the communist party's ideas.

He said while watching recent developments on some other countries' responses to the Chinese institutes, he decided to take action to stop China's infiltration of Korean universities and high schools.

The presence of Confucius Institutes has become a diplomatic thorn in several countries in recent years. The Swedish government decided to close all Confucius Institutes in the country amid a diplomatic spat over China's human rights violations, persecution of ethnic minorities and the jailing of the Swedish bookseller and poet Gui Minhaig in Hong Kong.

The number of Confucius Institutes in the United States has fallen sharply since 2017 when some 103 institutes were open. In May 2021, only 47 Confucius Institutes were in operation in the United States.

The U.S. government labeled the CIs as a foreign propaganda mission, not a language institute.

Mike Pompeo, then U.S. secretary of state, said the institutes are an entity advancing Beijing's global propaganda and malign influence campaign on American classrooms and campuses, a characterization China denied.


Kang Hyun-kyung hkang@koreatimes.co.kr


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