Mission accomplished? The retreat of Confucius Institutes in post-Trump era

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Abstract

China has rapidly expanded the Confucius Institutes internationally since the institution was first established in Seoul in 2004. The Confucius Institutes teaches Chinese language and promotes Chinese culture within the higher education institutions aboard. With China’s power and influence continue to expand, there are more and more host countries suspect the true intention behind the China’s state-sponsored organizations. There has been an ongoing debate about whether the Confucius Institutes are cultural institutions, or political propaganda organizations infiltrated in other countries and regions. Followed by the former Trump administration, many U.S. allies began to conduct reviews, and even considering to shut down the Confucius Institutes in their territories respectively. This has caused the reduction of the Confucius Institutes worldwide. Therefore, it is the purpose of this study to answer the research question: Whether the Confucius Institutes had accomplished their missions from both educational and political perspectives in the face of a large-scale retreat from 2017 to 2021? An interdisciplinary approach will be adopted, including a historical approach to the Sino-U.S. relations between 2017 to 2021, the Human Capital Theory and the Social Capital Theory to examine the educational outcomes of the Confucius Institutes. This is a qualitative paper based on analysis of current affairs and documental reviews of secondary sources.

Conference

ConferenceChina and Higher Education 2021 Conference
Abbreviated titleChinaHE21
Period6/12/219/12/21
OtherInternationalization of higher education in and outside of China continues to face unprecedented challenges, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Following campus closures in many countries, immediate concerns in the international higher education sector focused on issues such as financial instability (IAU, 2020) and (im)mobility of international students (Mok et al., 2021). China was placed at the forefront of such discussions due to the country’s status as both a leading source country for international students (OECD, 2021) and significant host of international students from other countries (Wen & Hu, 2019). Yet, questions about the role of China and international higher education were raised well before the current global health crisis. For example, Chinese students have increasingly questioned the value of an international higher education degree (Huang & Turner, 2018). Scholars have similarly argued that the value and benefits of international higher education unevenly impact different social groups (Rizvi, 2019). Mobility in particular has been given a spotlight in this debate, considering the tendency for elite, privileged groups to have the greatest opportunities to be internationally mobile (Brooks & Waters, 2011). Many in the field of international higher education believe a broad-based crisis for global higher education is emerging; one major consequence is intensifying inequality in the post-pandemic period. Other scholars have questioned how the sector might respond moving forward into a ‘post-mobility world’ (White & Lee, 2020). Last year, our #ChinaHE focused on ‘uncertain futures’ and the ways that uncertainty underpinned much of the experiences in higher education in the immediate post-pandemic period. In this year’s #ChinaHE21 conference, we seek to shift attention towards how the sector has and will continue to respond to the wide range of challenges that have been previously outlined. Against this broader socio-political context, the conference will critically reflect upon the future trends and developments of China and international higher education. More specifically, this conference will focus on issues related to how the current global health crisis affects the motivations and patterns of international student and academic mobility, to and from China, and the future of China’s role in international higher education.
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