China-funded language courses in B.C. “not democratic”: UVic prof

Premier Campbell signed agreement to offer free Mandarin courses in B.C. while on trip in China


The B.C. government has accepted an offer from China to fund Chinese-language courses in British Columbia — a move one political scientist says leaves the province open to political pressure from the communist regime.Premier Gordon Campbell signed a memorandum of agreement to provide free online language courses to British Columbians, paid for by China, during a visit there earlier this month.

University of Victoria professor Dennis Pilon said Tuesday the B.C. government is putting itself in a position of conflict by allowing a Chinese government agency to pay for high-school level Mandarin courses in British Columbia. “It immediately creates a conflict because once you become indebted to someone then you no longer can speak as freely about whatever issues may come to hand,” he said.

China has been widely criticized on the world stage for alleged human rights abuses.

Pilon said accepting or soliciting money from foreign governments for things wanted or needed in British Columbia interferes with citizens’ rights to hold the B.C. government accountable. “If we elect them to raise our concerns, this kind of relationship may interfere with that,” he said. “Which some would say is not very democratic.”

Education Minister Shirley Bond dismissed the concerns, saying the funding arrangement is simply a gift from one Olympic Games host to another. Canada is hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and China is hosting this summer’s Olympics in Beijing.

An education spokesman at the Chinese consulate in Vancouver concurred the memorandum was not a politically-motivated gesture. “It is not political, only a gift for the Olympic Games,” Fajun Zhang said.

Bond said the free courses are an effort to forge stronger ties between two trading and cultural partners. “It’s going to provide an opportunity for British Columbians, either adults or students, to learn Mandarin,” she said. “There’s always an interest in expanding cultural opportunities between the two countries.”

Bond said the cost of the language program has not been calculated.

The May 23 agreement was signed in Beijing between the B.C. government and China’s Office of Language Council International (Hanban). The Chinese agency will provide the Confucius Institute at the B.C. Institute of Technology in Vancouver with funding to create three Mandarin courses with the Education Ministry. The courses will include an introductory, Grade 10 level Mandarin course and two more advanced courses at the Grade 11 and 12 levels. Students will be able to receive graduation credits for the courses.

Pilon said allowing China to pay for such a program takes the economic and cultural relationship between the two jurisdictions in the wrong direction. “If it’s important enough to do, then it’s important enough for us to pay for,” he said. “To try and get the money from someone else, that suddenly introduces a whole bunch of strings which may have very undemocratic consequences.”

-with a report from CP

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China-funded language courses in B.C. “not democratic”: UVic prof

  1. Ignoring the obvious comparison between this project and every other form of trade between Canada and China that exists, the constitutionalist in me thinks we don’t elect our provincial politicians to represent our views on human rights to foreign governments because that’s the federal governments job. And I would hope that a political science professor would not confuse his students about such things.

  2. I can’t think of a better way to promote common understanding than a gift of language such as this. There is obviously no direct political element to this. The indirect political benefits coming from mutual understanding, goodwill and friendship will only help all these other issues.

    The idea that you cannot receive a gift without losing your freedom of speech is absurd. Governments give gifts all the time– most often they are statues or art or even the loan of panda cubs. But a gift of a language is the ultimate cultural gift that could affect more people than a sculpture that would adorn a political building.

    Once the gift’s period ends I think the Province could step up and pay to maintain the program but I think it is a very good gesture from the Chinese to do this and grateful appreciation would be the appropriate response.

    We do not have to agree with everything China does to appreciate this for what it is. Apparently they did not worry too much about what our government does that they are unhappy with either. Canadians need to realize (and tell their governments) that the relationship between Canada and China is far bigger and more important than individual political issues of the day- no matter how sensitive they may be. At a time when we may have these differences it is a very important to try to preserve the more positive aspects of the links between countries. This is good for peace and good for understanding. It also gives us more credibility when we want to disagree with something.

    On this, good one for China!

  3. 大家好!

    The Chinese have been quite upfront about why they’re opening up Confucius institutes all around the world and promoting the learning of Mandarin. They’re using these links as “soft power” to build up a positive image.

    Not much different from what the British Council, the Goethe Institute and others have done…

    Good luck learning 汉语 in 渥太华, Sean!

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