Context: Recently, India’s Ministry of Education sent a letter to several institutions seeking information about the activities of their Confucius Institutes (CIs) and Chinese language training centers. 

More on the news:

  • This move was said to be part of a review of work being done by higher education institutions in partnership with foreign entities. 
  • It has brought the spotlight to China’s CI program, a key pillar of Beijing’s global soft power effort. It has also raised questions about the future of India-China cooperation in the education space.
  • Along with this, Mandarin has been dropped from the list of foreign languages that can be taught in schools in the new National Education Policy.

Background of India’s stand on Confucius Institutes (CI)

  • Requirement of MEA approval
    • The guidelines established in 2009 require Indian institutions entering into such agreements “supported/sponsored by an autonomous foreign organization, including any Confucius Centre” to seek the MEA’s approval.
  • Earlier cooperation:
    • Irrespective of the MEA approval requirement, an agreement in 2012 was signed to train 300 Indian teachers in Mandarin with a view towards encouraging the study of Mandarin in the Central Board of Secondary Education schools.

About Confucius Institutes (CI)

  • Aim
    • China had begun establishing these non-profit public institutions which aim to ‘promote Chinese language and culture in foreign countries’. These were named CIs.
  • Worldwide presence:
    • Starting with a CI in Seoul in 2004, China’s National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language (NOCFL), known as Hanban, has established 550 CIs and 1,172 Confucius Classrooms (CCs) housed in foreign institutions, in 162 countries.
  • Presence in India
    • The Hanban website lists three CIs in India 
      • University of Mumbai, 
      • Vellore Institute of Technology, and 
      • Lovely Professional University.
    • The website also lists three CCs (School of Chinese Language Kolkata, Bharathiar University, and K.R. Mangalam University) but in some of these cases, it is understood that plans did not materialize.


How have CIs been viewed around the world?

  • The CI arrangement has generated debate in the West:
    • Here some universities have already closed the institutes amid concern over the influence of the Chinese government on host institutions, which receive funding for running the CIs.
  • Perspective of other countries:
    • While the closures in the West have made news, these cases still represent a minority. 
    • Most of the 550 CIs and more than 1,000 CCs around the world are still active, with a presence spanning Africa, Central Asia, Latin America, and across Asia.
    • In Asia, it also includes India’s neighborhood in Pakistan (seven), Nepal (four), Sri Lanka (four), and Bangladesh (three).



  • It is being said by experts that de-emphasizing learning Mandarin is neither likely to impact China’s stance on the border, nor help India in developing the expertise and resources it needs in dealing with China.


Image Source: TH