As relations between China and the rest of the world continue to worsen due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the Swedish government has decided to shut down all Confucius Institutes in the country to prevent Beijing from exerting its influence on university campuses.
According to The Times, Sweden is believed to be the first European nation to close all of its Confucius Institutes and classrooms, which were sponsored by Beijing in an effort to promote the Chinese language and enhance cultural exchanges between the two countries. The report pointed out that the bilateral friendship between China and Sweden has “deteriorated into hostility and mutual suspicion” and that the Swedish government has expressed concerns over Beijing’s potential brainwashing attempts on local students.
In December last year, Sweden shut down all four of its Confucius Institutes, leaving just one Confucius classroom in the southern Swedish town of Falkenberg. However, that classroom has also been suspended as of last week, which Bjorn Jerden, head of the Asia Program at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, described as solid proof of Sweden’s attitude change towards China.
Some experts have suggested that Sweden’s termination of the Chinese cultural education programs may also have to do with conflicts caused by Beijing’s detainment of Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai for selling critical books about Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping. They pointed out that the arrest has severely damaged trust between the two countries, according to ETtoday.
Earlier this year, the University of Maryland in the U.S. also announced the cancellation of its Confucius Institute after allegations of Beijing’s political influence over academics surfaced. Many sensitive topics, including Taiwan’s independence and the Chinese Communist Party’s prosecutions of Tibetans, were said to have been skirted inside the classrooms, reported Radio France Internationale.
Gothenburg mayor Axel Josefson told Radio Sweden that exchanges between the two cities have been “minimal” over the past three years. He then announced that given the current Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis and souring ties with China, “We don’t find it suitable to extend the twin-city agreement,” reported HKFP.
Gothenburg and Shangahi originally signed the sister-city agreement in 1986 and expanded the pact further in 2003 to encompass exchanges in culture, economics, trade, and sports. Over the years, the memorandum was regularly renewed, but it was allowed to expire at the end of 2019.
Members of the ruling Social Democratic Party had suggested renewing the link in the future, but other parties called for a total cessation of ties. Gothenburg is the latest of a number of Swedish cities to recently sever ties with their Chinese counterparts following Linkoping’s axing its agreement with Guangdong as well as the break between Lulea and Xi’an, Vasteras and Jinan, and Dalarna and Wuhan.
Linkoping Mayor Lars Vikinge was cited by Swedish newspaper Dagens Samhalle as saying that the city broke off ties with China “due to the threats that the Chinese embassy has directed towards the Swedish government.” Vasteras mayor Anders Teljeback pointed to China’s increasing repression in recent years as a reason for cutting ties, reported Financial Times.