BEIJING -- China on Friday criticized a decision by the government of Australia's New South Wales state to close Chinese-sponsored language programs in more than a dozen public schools over political concerns.
Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the 13 Confucius Institute programs operating in the schools had been "open, transparent and lawful" and a "win-win thing."
"But without communicating with China, the New South Wales state announced it was stopping this program. This shows no respect to the local people and students, it is not fair and not good for our people-to-people exchange," Geng said at a daily briefing.
"We hope Australia and the authorities in New South Wales can respect our cooperation and cherish the results of our cooperation, not politicize this normal exchange program and do more to contribute to our friendship and mutual trust," Geng said.
Confucius Institutes are run by a Chinese Education Ministry department known as Hanban and its teachers and curriculum are chosen by the communist state. They are normally housed in universities, and New South Wales, which includes Sydney, was the only government body in the world to host them within its own education department starting in 2012.
A New South Wales report issued after a review of the program said no evidence of "actual political influence" was found but that there was a sense that "the institute is or could be facilitating inappropriate foreign influence."
"Having foreign government appointees based in a government department is one thing," it said. "Having appointees of a one-party state that exercises censorship in its own country working in a government department in a democratic system is another."
China has opened around 500 Confucius Institutes around the world since 2004, including more than 100 in the U.S. alone. While China publicly portrays them as purely a vehicle for teaching Chinese language and culture, they have come under increasing scrutiny for their role spreading Chinese pro-government propaganda and censoring opposing viewpoints on issues such as Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong.
Several have already been closed down on grounds of interfering in academic freedom, and a bipartisan report from Congress in February urged U.S. colleges and universities to sever ties with the institute, concluding that the deals give Chinese authorities too much control over programs on U.S. soil.