The Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS) is much gentler in its assessment, saying only that while the Confucius Institute is an important tool of Chinese soft power, collection of information and mapping of mentality, it is virtually the only opportunity in Estonia to learn the Chinese language and culture.
Head of the Confucius Institute at Tallinn University Jekaterina Koort said as much. She claims the university is over a barrel in that it does not have money to offer language classes, while the country needs people who can speak Chinese. And here is where the Chinese state-funded institute steps in. Koort added that because the Chinese issue is causing allergies and Confucius institutes are looked upon with suspicion everywhere in the world, she avoids organizing events on sensitive subjects.
In Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the local university only hires the institute’s director and secretary. The teachers are chosen and paid by Hanban – an NGO working under the Chinese education ministry. Teachers report to Hanban.
A student of the Confucius Institute in Latvia who asked to remain anonymous told Re:Baltica that teachers were loathe to discuss matters that were sensitive for China. When the student wanted to know how and why the model of government in Hong Kong is different from that in China, the teacher simply told them it was irrelevant.
Vita Matisa pointed out that Confucius institutes are not independent and need to be seen as Trojan horses as they are part of an organization created by the communist government of China and have infiltrated foreign universities.
A piece of China for €100,000 a year
Former rector of the University of Latvia Marcis Auzins found dinners at the Chinese ambassador’s residence a normal part of professional relations. At times, he was given hints concerning the university’s work. “You know, rector, lector so and so is working with the Taipei mission… You know our government supports you, but my government might not be thrilled to learn of this,” Auzins recalled a particular conversation.
China is generous in supporting the Confucius institutes. Of the three Baltic countries, the institute in Estonia receives the most generous funding. This year’s budget of €226,000 is made up of €124,000 from Tallinn University and a little over €100,000 from Hanban. Support from China is used to organize events, such as the Chinese culture seminar, a visit of education workers to Shanghai or the Chinese week in Pärnu.
Policy director at US think tank the National Association of Scholars Rachelle Peterson said that Confucius institutes are “pieces of the Chinese government on university campuses.” She believes they should be closed as they might lead to academic censorship.