Beijing’s long arm has long reached German universities – and is also enforcing censorship here.
The most recent case: book lectures by the authors Stefan Aust (publisher of WELT, like BILD, belongs to the Axel Springer publishing house) and Adrian Geiges, long-time China correspondent for Stern.
The two journalists wanted to present their joint book “Xi Jinping – the most powerful man in the world” at the Confucius Institutes at the Leibniz University of Hanover and the University of Duisburg-Essen, among others.
But according to information from Piper Verlag, these were canceled due to Chinese pressure.
In Hanover, the Tongji University Shanghai intervened, which runs the institute together with the Leibniz University. According to Piper, Feng Haiyang, Consul General of China in Düsseldorf, personally intervened in Duisburg to prevent the event.
According to Piper, an employee of the Confucius Institute justified the refusals as follows: “You can no longer talk about Xi Jinping as a normal person, he should now be inviolable and unspeakable.” This is not the position of the German Confucius Institute and their Chinese partners, rather, they would have received “pressure from the very top” in China.
▶ ︎ “The cancellation of the event by the two Confucius Institutes is a disturbing and disturbing signal,” explained Piper publisher Felicitas von Lovenberg.
▶ ︎ Author Stefan Aust sees the basic theses of the book confirmed: “For the first time a dictatorship is in the process of overtaking the West economically and is now also trying to internationalize its values that are directed against our freedom.”
▶ ︎ Co-author Adrian Geiges explained that the book portrayed China in a very differentiated way, for example the overcoming of poverty was also addressed in the past decades: “Apparently, Xi Jinping is no longer enough with such balanced reports – he now wants an international cult for his own Person, just like in China itself. “
But why can China’s dictator determine which events take place at German universities? The reason are the Confucius Institutes, which are dependent on the Chinese government and cooperate with German universities.
Normally, however, they would not operate so obviously censorship, explains China expert David Missal, who has been working with the institutes for years.
“I have not yet heard of such a case in Germany. Beijing is usually more subtle about preventing critical events, ”says Missal. “Mostly there are individual cases that suggest self-censorship, but here the intervention was obviously made with great clarity.”
At the Confucius Institutes, events take place almost exclusively that are uncritical, do not deal with politics or are on the party line, but this is a clear case of censorship.
“Other Confucius Institutes have probably also removed announcements about this book launch from their websites,” says Missal. “So it seems to be a coordinated action, presumably by order of a higher authority from China, that makes it all the more worrying.”
“The cooperation must be ended”
The parliamentary groups of the FDP and the Greens had already dealt critically with the Confucius Institutes on several occasions. Last year, the Greens asked the federal government to what extent the Chinese state was “influencing the events, teaching content and materials at Confucius Institutes in Germany”.
The Federal Government’s answer: “The Confucius Institute program is controlled by the official foreign policy cultural organization Hanban (“ Institute for Chinese Language Education ”). The Hanban reports directly to the CCP’s Central Propaganda Department (ie, the Foreign Propaganda Office). “
In March, the FDP requested in a motion to end the cooperation with the Confucius Institutes and to work with an independent commission of experts on the influence of the Chinese government at German universities. It should also be examined to what extent Chinese scientists and students in Germany have been monitored and influenced.
► “Anyone who still believes in the independence of the Confucius Institutes will be taught otherwise by the latest bans on critical readings,” says Frank Müller-Rosentritt (39, FDP) to BILD. “I welcome the promotion of the Chinese language at our universities, but freedom of research and teaching must be guaranteed, including a critical discourse with the country’s political leadership.”
► “The cooperation between German universities and the Confucius Institutes must be ended because it gives them a semblance of academic independence,” says China expert Missal. “In Hamburg and Düsseldorf, the cooperation has already ended, in Trier it is currently paused, but there are still Confucius Institutes at several other German universities.”
The next federal government should act here, so Missal. “Third-party funding for universities should only be made available if they do not simultaneously cooperate with institutions that are dependent on the Chinese government.”