A Communist Party newspaper was prompted to defend China’s top language and culture institute after a New York Times report featured concerns it was “stifling” academic freedom in US universities.
The New York Times on Wednesday reported that the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) was concerned that the schools’ academic freedom was at risk if the Confucius Institute (CI) was on campus.
Some US academics claim the institutes have a say in the curriculum and, subject its staff and students to Beijing’s beliefs on free speech, the South China Morning Post has previously reported .
But the People’s Daily dismissed the report published on the New York paper’s Sinosphere blog as “deliberately smearing” the institute out of “political bias”.
Earlier this month, the AAUP, a non-profit whose mission is to advance academic freedom in higher education, published a statement about its fears of North American schools' integrity being at risk if they host Confucius Institutes, which have “control of hiring staff, choosing the curriculum and restricting teaching material”.
“Confucius Institutes function as an arm of the Chinese state and are allowed to ignore academic freedom,” the group said.
However, the People’s Daily quoted the dean of the Confucius Institute in Dusseldorf, Germany, as saying that CIs allow academic freedom more than other cultural institutions.
He also said the institutes’ presence in certain countries was a form of Sino-foreign cooperation, and said China’s government had no influence on the institute.
"Those who have been personally involved in establishing the Confucius Institute and other foreign scholars told the [People's Daily] that they are shocked at NYT’s report,” the party mouthpiece said.
“They believe that the AAUP’s attitude comes with political bias and is deliberately smearing the Confucius Institute.”
The state-sponsored Confucius Institute has around 440 branches worldwide, with the most aggressive expansion happening in the United States, where it has 100 offices.
Just last month, more than 100 professors  lobbied for the eviction of the Confucius Institute in the University of Chicago as its five-year lease agreement was set to expire. The deal would have been automatically renewed for another five years if neither party objects.
The professors accused the institute of being a propaganda tool, and of meddling in the university’s research and curriculum.
They also said the institute does not encourage free inquiry on sensitive issues like human rights or religious freedom.
CI officials argued the institutes’ programme did not push any ideological content and denied any interference.
Correction: A quote was misattributed to China Daily. It should be People's Daily.