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Norway Closes Confucius Institute

Norway will close its first and only Confucius Institute, the one in Bergen and affiliated with the University of Bergen and Western Norway University of Applied Sciences. This will be the second Nordic country, after Sweden, that will no longer have a single Confucius Institute.

In an interview with Radio Free Asia, Harald Bøckman, a researcher at the University of Oslo, said, “China has tried to establish a second Confucius Institute, but local authorities opposed it and thwarted their effort. The Confucius Institute in Bergen was challenged from the beginning. Other research institutes refused to set up Confucius Institutes because Beijing ran them.”

The initiative to establish the Confucius Institute in Bergen in 2007 came from the College of Western Norway, later renamed to Western Norway University of Applied Sciences. As the school’s focus is on martial arts, China’s Beijing Sport University became its partner. In addition to Chinese language teaching activities, the most unique feature of the Confucius Institute in Bergen is the teaching of martial arts. The Confucius Institute also quickly took root at the University of Bergen, working with Chinese language teaching as an academic discipline within its language department.

Sweden has had a total of four Confucius Institutes at its universities and by December 2019, all had been closed. The last Confucius classroom was closed in April 2020, making it the first country in Europe to close all Confucius Institutes and classrooms.

The Confucius Institute in Bergen has been criticized as being controlled by China’s Hanban and an extension of official Chinese propaganda. Bøckman pointed out, “It is certainly the same problem, because the Confucius Institute is a program and goal set by the Beijing government and runs counter to the standards used by Western academic institutions. The Confucius Institute remains a propaganda tool that is a soft power outlet for the Chinese authorities.”

In recent years, the Chinese government’s crackdown in Hong Kong and Xinjiang has indirectly affected the closure of the Confucius Institute in Bergen. However, the straw that broke the camel’s back was that, starting last year, the Chinese government decided to replace its cooperation partner from Beijing Sport University, which had been in place for many years, to China University of Political Science and Law. The China University of Political Science and Law is one of the main academic institutions for the training of Chinese elite in terms of ideology. Its relationship with the Chinese Communist Party and government has been very close. This was what finally prompted the University of Bergen to decide to close the Confucius Institute. The Confucius Institute in Norway will thus become history.

Source: Radio Free Asia, March 19, 2021