Visa row over teachers at US Confucius Institutes

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 May, 2012, 12:00am


Beijing is caught up in a diplomatic row with Washington over alleged visa violations at Chinese government-sponsored Confucius Institutes in the United States.

It is feared the dispute will disrupt the operations of more than 80 institutes and could escalate if not handled properly.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the Chinese had been communicating with the US side. 'We hope it can be solved properly and will not affect normal operations of relevant programmes,' she told a regular briefing yesterday.

The People's Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, and its affiliate the Global Times criticised the US decision as being politically driven ahead of November's US presidential election. It risked hampering cultural and personnel exchanges between the two countries, they warned.

The US State Department policy guidance, issued on May 17, accused Chinese teachers at the institutes with J-1 visas - which are given to people participating in work- and study-based exchange programmes - of violating visa rules by teaching in primary and high schools. They must leave the United States by the end of next month and 'no extensions will be granted', the directive said.

The US schools that host the institutes - key platforms for Beijing's push to improve its 'soft power' - were surprised by the move.

An official at the Office of Chinese Language Council International, known as Hanban that sponsors the institutes around the world, told the Global Times that he was shocked that the US had announced the decision without any prior consultation with Beijing. Many US universities rely heavily on the Chinese government-funded institutes for their Chinese language programmes.

An unnamed State Department official tried to play down the issue as 'simply a regulatory matter' and denied it had targeted the Confucius Institutes, which have operated in the US for nearly a decade.

More than 350 Confucius Institutes and 500-plus Confucius classrooms have been established in 106 countries since 2004.