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The UK’s new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has the support of parliament if he intends to deliver his campaign promise to close Confucius Institutes, British China observers said on Tuesday.
Benedict Rogers, co-founder of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, told The Epoch Times that Sunak will “inevitably” have to deal with the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) infiltration and influence in the UK.
Roger Garside, associate fellow at foreign policy and national security think tank Henry Jackson Society (HJS), said there are “strong grounds” for believing that Sunak will deal with the Confucius Institutes.
The experts suggest the time is ripe for measures to tackle the CCP-backed language centers following a sea change in the Western governments’ China strategies.
There has been increasing attention in the past few years on the activities of the Confucius Institutes around the world.
According to a recent HJS report, most of the Confucius institutes in the UK were engaged with activities beyond their remit of “language and culture,” including “cooperating with UK organisations that work with the United Front Work Department (UFWD), a CCP agency the interference activities of which were recently highlighted by MI5.”
During his unsuccessful bid to become the prime minister in July, Sunak announced a number of hawkish China policies including closing all 30 Confucius Institutes in the UK, shortly after opponent Liz Truss questioned whether he “still [thought] we should be doing more business with China.”
But China hawks were sceptical about Sunak’s commitment, owing to the former chancellor’s lack of track record on China policies.
Asked whether Sunak should still prioritise closing the Confucius Institutes amid the current economic turmoil, Rogers said while it remains to be seen what Sunak will do, the prime minister can’t avoid the issue given the “increasing evidence of the Chinese Communist Party’s infiltration and influence and the threat it increasingly poses to the international rules-based order.”
Sunak will have to “weigh up” the Sino-British trade relationship and the “growing threats” the CCP poses, but “whether he wants to make it a priority or not, I think he will inevitably have to tackle the challenges that China poses,” Rogers said.
Garside told The Epoch Times that he believes Sunak will tackle the Confucius Institutes, although it may not necessarily be a blanket ban, because he can “see the importance of this as an issue of principle” and because the move will be welcomed by the right wing of the Conservative Party and therefore “unite the party behind him.”
The author and former diplomat said he believes the left wing of the Conservative Party and the Labour party will not oppose measures to deal with the Confucius Institutes either.
Rogers also said there is “a lot more support in Parliament”—across all parties and all the wings of the ruling Conservative Party—than there was two to three years ago as MPs and ministers became more “alert” on China-related issues.
Sunak Urged to Confront CCP threats
Launching his new book “China Nexus: Thirty Years In and Around the Chinese Communist Party’s Tyranny” on Sunak’s first day on the job, Rogers delivered a letter to the new prime minister, urging him to “send a clear, unambiguous message from the outset” on the “severe and growing threats” the CCP poses to freedoms in China and around the globe.
He urged Sunak to review the UK’s China policy, eliminate forced labour from the UK’s supply chain, impose sanctions on those responsible for the disintegration of freedom in Hong Kong, expel Chinese Consul General Zheng Xiyuan and others who assaulted a Hong Kong protester in Manchester, and show the willingness to meet Dalai Lama and “stand by Taiwan.”
Commenting on the West’s previous tendency to “subordinate their political interests to what they wrongly conceived to be their economic interests,” Garside said the two are not in conflict with each other.
“You can’t defend your free market economy, which produces your wealth, if you don’t fight the good fight on political and human rights matters,” he argued, adding, “the rule of law, [an] independent judiciary, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly … are vital to the functioning of our economies as well as of our political system.”