India Reviews University Language Programs for Ties to Chinese Government

Students talk to each other inside a classroom as schools in Kashmir re-opened after a winter break on February 24, 2020. (Photo by TAUSEEF MUSTAFA / AFP) (Photo by TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP via Getty Images)
TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP via Getty Images

India’s Education Ministry announced Saturday that it would drop Mandarin from the list of recommended foreign languages to be taught in schools, citing security concerns about ties between Mandarin-language programs and the Chinese Communist government.

On Sunday, the ministry posted a list of programs that allegedly have operational or funding links to Beijing.

The Education Ministry stressed on Saturday that it was not banning Chinese language programs from schools, but rather removing Mandarin, the official language of the Communist Party, from a list of recommended language instruction classes that received final approval last week. The relevant policy document now encourages “high-quality offerings in Indian languages and English” plus “foreign languages such as Korean, Japanese, Thai, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian.”

The decision was reportedly made after a year of discussions among the education, human resources, and external affairs ministries, rather than in haste as a response tense relations between China and India in June.

Government sources told The Hindu on Saturday that the decision to remove Mandarin from the list of recommended languages was made both on importance and “security concerns involving Mandarin language instruction in Indian institutions.”

Given the proximity of China and its large volume of trade and investment with India, it is rather difficult to argue that learning Chinese is not important for Indian students. Security concerns, however, were underscored on Sunday when the Education Ministry said it was taking a close look at university Mandarin programs linked to the Chinese government’s official language training department, the Hanban, and China’s network of Confucius Institute schools around the world. 

Confucius Institutes have come under close scrutiny in the United States and other countries for receiving heavy funding and political direction from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Among other things, Confucius Institutes have been accused of coordinating CCP political activities in host countries, monitoring, and intimidating Chinese dissidents living abroad, influencing foreign universities, and facilitating the theft of intellectual property.

The Hindu noted that India presently has only two fully operational Confucius Institutes, at Mumbai University and the Vellore Institute of Technology, but the Education Ministry sent letters to at least five schools asking them to submit details of collaboration with Chinese government projects over the past three years. 

Representatives from several of those universities denied there was any Confucius Institute activity on their campuses. India’s former ambassador to China, Ashok Kantha, told The Hindu that the Indian government has long made a distinction between the Confucius Institutes — “which we had strong worries about” — and programs that simply teach Chinese languages to Indian students.

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