Jun Liu, who has served as a director of several Confucius Institutes in the US, has been recommended as the sole candidate to be deputy president of the Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd). The move has raised concerns over academic freedom as the state-backed entities are often perceived to be a tool for forwarding Communist Party agendas on Tibet, Taiwan and human rights.

Liu is currently director of the Confucius Institute, and associate provost of the Office of International Initiatives, at Georgia State University. Previously, he started a Confucius Institute at Arizona State University in 2008 and worked as director until 2011.

Liu told Ming Pao that he decided to come to work in Hong Kong because he wanted to work in a familiar cultural environment and to take care of his parents in China.

Jun Liu.
Jun Liu. Photo: HKIEd.

He said that his main tasks at the universities were not related to Confucius Institutes, and that he is now an American citizen and not a Communist Party member. He said he has no ties with the Chinese government.

Confucius Institutes seek to promote Chinese language and culture, that they are not involved in politics and they do not interfere with academic freedom, he added.

‘New’ reservations
HKIEd told Ming Pao that the school had recommended acting deputy president Lui Tai-lok to formally take the post, but Lui refused. Thus, Jun Liu became the sole candidate.

Franky Leung Ho-ching, president of HKIEd student union and a member of the screening panel for candidates, told the newspaper that he hadn’t paid much attention to Liu’s association with the controversial institutes. However, he added that he now has reservations about Liu.

HKIEd Adjunct Associate Professor of the Department of Education Policy and Leadership Leung Yan-wing told the newspaper that he was worried about Liu’s background, and that there was a need for serious discussion with him.

Education lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen, who had worked at HKIEd, told Apple Daily that Liu’s connection with China was worrying, but the position he was recommended to focuses on research and development. He said that it was not a core area for training of teachers, and that Liu may be in no position to “brainwash” teachers.

Chinese President Xi Jinping at a Confucius Institute ceremony in UK.
Chinese President Xi Jinping at a Confucius Institute ceremony in UK.

‘Ignores academic freedom’

Confucius Institutes aim to increase understanding of Chinese culture in foreign countries. Their teachers, teaching materials and funding are paid for by the Chinese government.

In June 2014, the American Association of University Professors issued a report saying Confucius Institutes “function as an arm of the Chinese state and are allowed to ignore academic freedom.”

“Specifically, North American universities permit Confucius Institutes to advance a state agenda in the recruitment and control of academic staff, in the choice of curriculum, and in the restriction of debate,” the report added.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.