Belgium bars Chinese professor suspected of spying for Beijing

Belgium bars Chinese professor suspected of spying for BeijingThe head of a Chinese language and cultural institute at a Brussels university has been banned from Belgium after security services accused him of being a spy.  Xinning Song, 65, was also barred from the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone for eight years, Belgian media reported. Professor Song has lived in Belgium for ten years. His work visa expired while he was on a trip to China. When he applied for its renewal, however, he was rejected by Belgian authorities. Their decision to impose the Schengen ban infers he is viewed as an espionage threat by security services, the De Morgen newspaper reported.  Mr Song was the director of the Confucius Institute at the VUB (Free University Brussels), a department said to benefit from 200,000 euros a year in money from the Chinese government.  Scrutiny has intensified around the world regarding Confucius Institutes, language and cultural centres that operate on university campuses. What separates these institutes from organisations like the British Council is that they fall directly under the Chinese ministry of education, which ultimately reports to the ruling Communist Party’s central propaganda department.  US and UK politicians have raised concerns about the risks Confucius Institutes pose in terms of academic freedoms, and potential theft of proprietary research on university campuses.  Confucius Institutes, for instance, must obey Chinese law, which could include advocating for Beijing’s territorial claims around the world and censoring discussion by not allowing events, speakers or textbooks deemed sensitive by the Communist Party, according to a report by the Royal United Services Institute, a security think tank.  “Pressure has also been applied to academics at [the University of] Nottingham to stand down or avoid inviting certain external speakers, because they and/or their chosen subjects were deemed too sensitive,” reads the report written by Charles Parton, a British diplomat who was posted to China.      Beijing approves Confucius Institute course materials, events and even evaluates teachers. The centres “represent an endeavour by the Chinese Communist Party to spread its propaganda and suppress its critics beyond its borders,” said a February report by the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, an advocacy group.  The UK alone has around 30 of these on attached to major universities such as Edinburgh, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Cardiff and University College London. There are an additional 148 Confucius “classrooms” in schools around the UK, according to a Chinese government website.  At least 27 universities around the world have terminated ties with Confucius Institutes, including campuses in the US, the Netherlands, Sweden, France and Canada, while others reversed decisions to break ground on an institute In 2018, Belgian security services advised government ministers against supporting a Confucius Institute at the VUB, but the warning was ignored.  Mr Song couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.



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