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British MP appeals to Taiwan to counter China's Confucius Institutes

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2022/08/14
British MP Alicia Kearns. Source: facebook.com/AliciaKearnsConservative

London, Aug. 13 (CNA) British MP Alicia Kearns has called on Taiwan to play a stronger role in teaching Mandarin in the United Kingdom to enhance public understanding about Taiwan as Britons become increasingly distrustful of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Speaking to CNA in a recent interview, the Conservative MP expressed her hope that the government of Taiwan "comes proactively to the British government" to offer to help British people improve their Mandarin capabilities.

A member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Kearns in June proposed an amendment to the Higher Education Bill which would give the government the power to shut down China's Confucius Institutes over academic freedom concerns.

If people in the U.K. want to learn Mandarin in a university or other school, they can only go to a Confucius Institute, but Confucius Institutes "do not teach accurate history" and are under the control of the Chinese State, Kearns said.

"That needs to end," she said, adding that Confucius Institutes, closely tied to China's Ministry of Education, are "the arms of the Chinese State" and are harmful at the level of discussion about and understanding of China in the U.K.

Kearns noted that Taiwan's equivalent of Confucius Institutes would also expand Britons' interest in Taiwan beyond the primary focus on defense and security to include its history, culture, bubble tea, semiconductor industry and other success stories or trade relationships and other exchanges between the two sides.

The change will shift conversation about Taiwan in the U.K. "away from Taiwan juxtaposed to the CCP" to one "that is just about our friendship with our friends in Taiwan," she added.

According to a report published in June by the China Research Group, set up by Conservative MPs in 2020, there are currently 30 university-based Confucius Institutes in the U.K., the highest number in the world.

British schools and universities are reliant on a network of 30 Confucius Institutes to coordinate teaching of Mandarin, funding and expertise, the group's report said.

Late last month, Rishi Sunak, who is in the race to be the next Conservative leader and U.K. prime minister, said he would shut down all 30 Confucius Institutes, after he was accused of being weak on China and Russia.

"I'm afraid I can't say that's not a welcome move," Kearns said when speaking of the issue.

The average member of the public and definitely conservative voters in the U.K. have become "very aware of the threat of the CCP in terms of invading our digital freedoms and our liberties," she said.

Asked about major concerns in the U.K.'s bilateral relationships with China, Kearns said one of the biggest priorities is respect for the data of individuals.

China is building a totalitarian state on the back of the data of people around the world, whether it is China's video surveillance firm Hikvision, social-media app TikTok or Huawei Technologies, Kearns said.

"They are sending back data, AI data, hospital data, airport data, prison data, school data, to China, on British people. That is dangerous to our civil liberties, dangerous to our freedoms," Kearns said.

Meanwhile, Kearns said the Foreign Affairs Committee will visit Taiwan this year to learn about Taiwan's experiences in tackling China's hybrid warfare campaign and other issues related to a trade deal between the U.K. and Taiwan.

The visit was initially scheduled in February but postponed after some MPs tested positive for COVID-19, she said.

Kearns would not give a date for the visit for security reasons but said the plan will not be affected by China's "disproportionate" reactions to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's recent visit to Taiwan.

According to a report in the Guardian on Aug. 2, Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the committee, is expected to lead the delegation to Taiwan in November or December.

If it happens, it will be the first visit to Taiwan by the committee since 2006.

Chinese U.K. ambassador Zheng Zeguang (鄭澤光) told a news conference on Aug. 2, when Pelosi began her trip to Taiwan, that should British MPs visit Taiwan, it would have severe consequences for the China-U.K. relationship, and urged them not to follow the U.S. example.


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