Sweden has closed the last remaining Confucius Institute in the country as relations with China deteriorate further amid the coronavirus pandemic, The Times of London reported on Thursday.
The Chinese government in 2004 launched Confucius institutes at various foreign universities, with the stated goal of promoting Chinese language and culture. However, U.S. officials have stated that the institutes are a propaganda tool meant to enhance China’s “soft power.”
Sweden at one time had generally cordial relations with China, with automaker Volvo accepting Chinese ownership in 2010 and welcoming Europe’s first Confucius Institute at Stockholm University in 2005. However, Sweden closed that institute in January 2015.
“Generally speaking, establishing institutes that are funded by another nation, within the framework of a university, is rather a questionable practice,” then-vice chancellor Astrid Soderbergh Widding said at the time. Sweden is now the first European country to close all of its Confucius Institutes.
Sweden-China relations had already soured before the coronavirus pandemic. In November 2019 China arrested Swedish publisher Gui Minhai for printing texts critical of Communist Party premier Xi Jinping. The Swedish chapter of PEN International, a global association of writers, awarded Gui its Tucholsky Prize for persecuted writers or publishers, after which China imposed trade restrictions on Sweden.
There are 86 Confucius Institutes currently operating in the U.S., including at elite institutions such as Stanford University and Tufts University. Former FBI director Christopher Wray testified to Congress in 2019 that the institutes “offer a platform to disseminate Chinese government or Chinese Communist Party propaganda, to encourage censorship, to restrict academic freedom.”