China silent on censorship and spying allegations in Groningen

The Chinese Embassy in the Netherlands has remained silent on allegations of censorship and spying in Groningen, a Dutch student city.

A “group of students in Groningen” stated that they are concerned about Chinese influence on Dutch education, particularly from the Chinese Confucius Institute. The students, who remained anonymous, are being backed by a student party which has a seat on Groningen’s university council.

The students recently launched a petition to urge the University of Groningen to sever its ties with the Groningen Confucius Institute (GCI) and to ensure its students are free from intimidation. The petition also makes reference to a report published in 2020 which says that Chinese students in the Netherlands are monitored by their embassy and other students. The Lens put these allegations to the embassy but received no reply by the time the article was published.

The University of Groningen says it’s aware of the petition. Hansch van der Velden, a spokesperson for the university, told The Lens that it’s good to have an open discussion about the GCI. He said that the University Council will be discussing the issue in March. The spokesperson didn’t comment on the allegations made.

The GCI told The Lens that their books are selected by their teachers and denied that they need China’s approval. On allegations that it censored posters highlighting human rights violations in Hong Kong, the GCI said that so far they haven’t encountered any students asking about Hong Kong-related issues.

What is the Groningen Confucius Institute (GCI)?

Building of the Groningen Confucius Institute (Google Maps)

According to the University of Groningen’s website, the GCI is a collaboration between three universities – two Dutch and one Chinese. It aims to strengthen bonds between both countries and to promote China’s culture and language. It opened in 2011.

There are a number of such Confucius Institutes around the world which are plagued by controversy. Just last week, the person in line to become the USA’s ambassador to the UN had to distance herself from the institute and China.

“I truly regret having accepted that invitation and having had my name associated with the Confucius Institute,” said diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield in a speech.

Such developments can spell disaster for the future of the institute in the Netherlands, a country which often portrays itself as a champion of civil liberties.

Rozemarijn Gierkink, a member of the student party Lijst Calimero, told The Lens that there is a lack of clarity surrounding the GCI. She’s been seeking answers since 2020 and says it’s worrying that it took so long for there to be an open discussion about it. She says that the institute teaches around 300 students.

Marinus Jongman, the Chairperson of the Groningen Student Union (GSB), told The Lens that they’re following the situation closely. He said that the situation is worrying and lacks transparency.

The Lens sent questions to the Dutch Ministry for Education about the matter but received no reply by the time the article was published.

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