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Chinese Regime Courts Africa With Confucius Institutes and Scholarships

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An statue of Confucius in Beijing in 2008. Critics of the regime say that the real purpose of its recent awarding of scholarships and setting up of Confucius Institutes in Africa is to gain political influence in the region. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

In a move that critics say is meant to increase Chinese influence over Africa, the Chinese regime has plans to hand out thousands of scholarships to residents of the continent, while setting up dozens of Confucius Institutes—educational centers that have been criticized for promoting Party ideology and revisionist history.

The Chinese Communist Party announced a three-year “African Talents Plan” in July, which aims to train around 30,000 Africans and give out 18,000 government-sponsored scholarships, according to Party mouthpiece Xinhua.

The announcement was first made by Hu Jintao, the Party chief, and included a $20 billion line of credit to African nations for investment in infrastructure, agriculture, and manufacturing. 

A conference was recently held in Stellenbosch, a city of South Africa, to “draw the blueprint for future development” of Confucius Institutes across the continent. 

Confucius Institute Director-General Xu Lin proclaimed that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has founded 31 of its schools in 26 African countries, with some that grant accredited degrees in those countries.

But behind the generosity is a plan to garner influence, according to Chinese dissidents and critics of the regime.

Gong Lei, an independent writer from Shandong Province, told Chinese broadcaster NTD Television: “The main reason the CCP invests in Africa is that the regime wants the UN ballots.” 

Votes at the United Nations could help the Chinese regime block criticism and investigation of human rights abuses conducted in China, or may be used to stymie efforts by the United States and other countries to put sanctions on dictatorial governments committing violence toward their citizenry. 

“It wants supporters in the UN… It’s spending the hard-earned money of the Chinese people in exchange for ballots. In fact, many Chinese people are living in dire straits, but the CCP doesn’t care,” Gong Lei said. 

The CCP has long invested in Africa, but whereas in previous decades the emphasis was on revolutionary struggle against the forces of imperialism, the Party now seeks to influence the continent through economic and cultural initiatives, analysts say. 

By 2011, China was the largest trading partner with Africa for a third consecutive year, with a total trading volume of around $166 billion, according to UN figures. The Minister of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce Chen Deming said around 2,000 Chinese companies have invested directly into Africa.

The scholarships and Confucius Institutes are being carried out on the cultural side of the equation, meant for the CCP to “establish its image” in Africa, according to Chinese artist He Guoquan of Guangzhou, who follows Chinese politics, in an interview with NTD.

The Confucius Institutes, which report directly to the Chinese Ministry of Education, have schools in the United States and other Western countries, with 387 institutes and 509 primary and secondary schools across the world. 

Yao Zhe, a teacher from Southern California, told The Epoch Times in 2009 that in her experience, Confucius Institute taught students things like “loving the [Communist] Party is patriotic.”

The “Kids” section of the Confucius Institute Online earlier this year featured a section about the Korean War titled, “The War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea.” 

The section explained that China “crushed the imperialists’ aggressive ambitions” and “enhanced China’s international prestige.” It was removed after a scholar brought it to the attention of peers on an email list.

Frank Cohee, the Secretary of the Korean War Veterans Association, told The Epoch Times that the Institute’s narrative is “bull” and “that’s strictly propaganda.”

Meanwhile, Confucius Institutes have been panned by Chinese Internet users on social media sites as a waste of money. Some have said the schools should be closed down and the money sent back to promote China’s education system.

Gong Lei remarked that the Party “isn’t afraid of spending money.” 

He added: “The CCP has money. It launched the Olympics Games, the World Expo… It wants to create a great image, and doesn’t care about spending money.”

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