Taiwan makes soft power grab for Europe’s Mandarin learners

Push comes as China’s Confucius Institutes face global headwinds

For Nikkei Asia

JENS KASTNER, contributing writerMay 30, 2022 11:57 JST

HAMBURG, Germany — Taiwanese centers for learning Mandarin are springing up in Germany, taking the place of Chinese facilities as universities grow wary of Beijing’s influence on their academic freedom.

The expansion comes as Taipei increasingly turns to soft power to compete with China, which views Taiwan as a breakaway province to be brought under its control by force if necessary.

A new branch of the Taiwan Center for Mandarin Learning (TCML) is preparing to launch in Berlin, local staff told Nikkei Asia — Germany’s third such site teaching the Chinese language to adults after Hamburg and Heidelberg.

In recent months, universities in Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Ingolstadt and Trier have bowed out of or started to phase out cooperation with China’s Confucius Institutes. That is due to practical challenges as well as political headwinds, with the Confucius Institute in Heidelberg telling Nikkei that students did not sign up for classes as China suspended student exchange initiatives during the pandemic.

Thirty-five of the 45 TCMLs around the world are in the U.S., with two each in the U.K., France and Germany, and single sites in Austria, Ireland, Sweden and Hungary. As shown by the upcoming branch in Berlin, Taiwan is pushing to expand.

That is still dwarfed by the number of Confucius Institutes globally. By the end of 2019, 550 institutes and 1,172 classrooms had been established in 162 countries around the world. Europe alone had 187 institutes in 41 nations.

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