On Campus

China-funded language courses in B.C. "not democratic": UVic prof

Premier Campbell signed agreement to offer free Mandarin courses in B.C. while on trip in China

The B.C. government has accepted an offer from China to fund Chinese-language courses in British Columbia — a move one political scientist says leaves the province open to political pressure from the communist regime.Premier Gordon Campbell signed a memorandum of agreement to provide free online language courses to British Columbians, paid for by China, during a visit there earlier this month.

University of Victoria professor Dennis Pilon said Tuesday the B.C. government is putting itself in a position of conflict by allowing a Chinese government agency to pay for high-school level Mandarin courses in British Columbia. “It immediately creates a conflict because once you become indebted to someone then you no longer can speak as freely about whatever issues may come to hand,” he said.

China has been widely criticized on the world stage for alleged human rights abuses.

Pilon said accepting or soliciting money from foreign governments for things wanted or needed in British Columbia interferes with citizens’ rights to hold the B.C. government accountable. “If we elect them to raise our concerns, this kind of relationship may interfere with that,” he said. “Which some would say is not very democratic.”

Education Minister Shirley Bond dismissed the concerns, saying the funding arrangement is simply a gift from one Olympic Games host to another. Canada is hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and China is hosting this summer’s Olympics in Beijing.

An education spokesman at the Chinese consulate in Vancouver concurred the memorandum was not a politically-motivated gesture. “It is not political, only a gift for the Olympic Games,” Fajun Zhang said.

Bond said the free courses are an effort to forge stronger ties between two trading and cultural partners. “It’s going to provide an opportunity for British Columbians, either adults or students, to learn Mandarin,” she said. “There’s always an interest in expanding cultural opportunities between the two countries.”

Bond said the cost of the language program has not been calculated.

The May 23 agreement was signed in Beijing between the B.C. government and China’s Office of Language Council International (Hanban). The Chinese agency will provide the Confucius Institute at the B.C. Institute of Technology in Vancouver with funding to create three Mandarin courses with the Education Ministry. The courses will include an introductory, Grade 10 level Mandarin course and two more advanced courses at the Grade 11 and 12 levels. Students will be able to receive graduation credits for the courses.

Pilon said allowing China to pay for such a program takes the economic and cultural relationship between the two jurisdictions in the wrong direction. “If it’s important enough to do, then it’s important enough for us to pay for,” he said. “To try and get the money from someone else, that suddenly introduces a whole bunch of strings which may have very undemocratic consequences.”

-with a report from CP

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.