German university agrees to abide by Chinese law

The Free University of Berlin, one of Germany’s top universities, has become the subject of criticism by the country’s lawmakers after a contract to help the university train up to 20 Chinese language teachers a year was obtained by local newspaper Tagesspiegel (in German).

Times Higher Education reports that the university “had signed a contract binding it to abide by Chinese law while accepting hundreds of thousands of euros [€500,000 or $548,967] from China to set up a professorship to establish a Chinese teacher training programme.” German lawmakers were quick to criticize the contract’s terms, per Times Higher Education:  

German lawmakers have criticized the Free University of Berlin (FU) over the terms, which critics fear give the Chinese government leverage to prevent teaching about subjects such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and Tibet.

The contract, obtained by the Berlin newspaper Tagesspiegel, allows the Chinese side to reduce or halt funding if any element of the programme contravenes Chinese law.

Other clauses also place the FU at the mercy of political pressure from China, critics argue. Each year, Hanban — the agency that runs controversial Confucius Institutes in Western universities and is the contractual partner of the FU — is allowed to revoke the agreement at its discretion, according to Tagesspiegel. If the FU wants to end the agreement, however, the conditions are more onerous.

The revelations follow a letter dated January 20 addressed to the university and signed by its alumni, including Sinologist David Missal, that called the academic agreement “untenable,” as it renders curriculum content susceptible to Chinese Communist Party influence.

Higher Times Education reports that the Berlin Senate will investigate the contract.

—Alex Smith