Taiwan on Monday unveiled plans to set up 25 more Mandarin learning centres abroad next year, expanding its soft diplomacy outreach as China’s own cultural institutes face increased scrutiny over their operations.
Taipei currently operates 43 such centres overseas, including 23 established this year, as it seeks to bolster its cultural clout even as China steps up its economic, military and diplomatic pressure on the island.
Only 14 countries maintain formal relations with Taiwan instead of China, which claims the self-ruled democracy as part of its territory to be taken one day.
But many nations maintain unofficial ties with Taiwan and Western support has grown in recent years as China takes a more aggressive stance towards the island under President Xi Jinping.
Tung Chen-yuan, Taiwan’s overseas affairs minister, said 25 new “Taiwan Centre for Mandarin Learning” facilities will be launched in Europe and the United States next year.
“We are providing more teaching materials on Taiwanese culture and I believe they (the students) will have a deeper understanding of Taiwan,” he told a parliamentary session on Monday.
Establishing the centres in Europe and the United States is part of Taiwan’s “national strategies” with a focus on teaching adults, he added.
China set up hundreds of Confucius Institutes — named after the ancient Chinese philosopher — in more than 150 countries in less than two decades, catering to a surge for knowledge about the world’s most populous country and second largest economy.
Presented as China’s answer to organisations such as Germany’s Goethe-Institut or the British Council, they offer language lessons and cultural exchange programmes.
But as relations with Beijing have deteriorated and Xi has taken a more assertive foreign policy approach, an increasing number of critics in the West say the institutes have become a threat.
Dozens of Confucius Institutes have closed down in the United States, Canada, Australia and some European countries in recent years under growing scrutiny.
In June, Germany’s Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger warned the language centres were being “used by the Communist Party for political ends”.
The German interior ministry said any cooperation between German universities and Confucius Institutes was “extremely critical security-wise” and risked “insidiously restricting academic freedom”.
Britain’s new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has previously vowed to close all 30 Confucius Institutes in Britain.