The love affair that started cautiously in 2016 between Curaçao and Guangdong Zhenrong Energy (GZE) to build a refinery, even though this group had never made one before, blossomed in 2017. By this time, GZE had promised to bail out GiroBank, build a Las Vegas-style entertainment strip, and sign MoUs with important local government-owned companies. All while, GZE was feeding lies regarding the refinery project. Less known is that Beijing was pushing hard to start a Confucius Institute (CI) with the University of Curaçao (UoC).
On paper, CIs are educational and cultural promotion programs under the Chinese Ministry of Education. In reality, they disseminate censorship and fake news on Tibet, Taiwan, and Tiananmen and whitewash China’s dismal human rights track record, such as the Uyghur case. It’s not hearsay. What stands out is the anti-Tibet and anti-Dalai Lama rhetoric I’ve seen in Mongolia, which practices the same form of Buddhism as Tibet. According to the European Journal of Education (2009, 44), CIs are also used to spy on Chinese abroad. CIs are not independent of the Chinese Communist Party. So, should the UoC, which promotes academic freedom, be involved with a regime that stifles freedom of expression and openly disregards basic human rights?
And countries are paying attention to CIs. In 2014, Stockholm University, the first European university to host a CI, terminated this program after its CEO had prohibited material about Taiwan (the Braga Incident). In Belgium, a CI was closed after its professor was accused of spying for China. Of the 118 CIs in the US, 104 were closed as of 2021. In the Netherlands, the CI associated with the University of Leiden was terminated in 2019. Currently, students at the University of Groningen are petitioning to end the CI associated with their university. Many petitioners are Chinese nationals who fear for their safety.
The deal between GZE and UoC did not prosper. Seems China’s “love” depended on the deal that didn’t prosper with the refinery newbies of GZE. The question remains what we were thinking then. Did we not see the writing on the wall? Or were we, including the silent media, willing to sell out and compromise academic freedom and democratic principles for empty promises? Hopefully, we will be better prepared when confronted with Beijing’s smoke and mirrors next time.
Want to get involved? See https://saynotoci.org/
Alex David Rosaria (53) is a freelance consultant active in Asia & Pacific. He is a former Member of Parliament, Minister of Economic Affairs, State Secretary of Finance and UN Implementation Officer in Africa and Central America. He’s from Curaçao and has a MBA from the University of Iowa. (USA).