New Brunswick

Decision to cancel Confucius Institute may have already damaged relations, prof says

Weiqiu Yu is a professor of economics at the University of New Brunswick. She said she was offended by Cardy's portrayal of human rights issues in China, feeling they misrepresented how things are in the country.

Economics professor concerned about implications on New Brunswick-Chinese relations

Weiqiu Yu is a professor of economics at the University of New Brunswick who says the handling of the Confucius Institute issue has already jeopardized the province's relationship with China. (CBC)

A Chinese-Canadian professor of economics at the University of New Brunswick is critical of how education minister Dominic Cardy has handled the Confucius Institute issue.

Weiqiu Yu has lived in Canada for 35 years, mostly in New Brunswick, but travels to China frequently. She is concerned how the minister's actions have already negatively impacted Chinese-Canadian relations and New Brunswick business interests in China.

"If the issue does not get resolved soon that it will turn a lot of people away."

The Confucius Institute, which has operated in at least 28 schools in the province, teaches students about Chinese language and culture, but avoids discussions of the country's authoritarian one-party system and its human rights record.

Cardy has criticized the program's "one-dimensional" approach to teaching about China and plans to get rid of the program, although Premier Blaine Higgs has said the government would abide by the contract with the Confucius Institute and not do anything that might jeopardize it's relationship with China.

Education Minister Dominic Cardy said he plans on terminating the operation of the Confucius Institute in New Brunswick schools due to freedom of education concerns. (Gilles Landry/Radio-Canada)

Yu said she feels the minister is using his platform to impose his personal views, rather than making a decision in consultation with others.

"I don't think that is very thoughtful, certainly not very diplomatic," she said.

Human rights concerns

Yu said she understands human rights are an issue for China, but said it's the jurisdiction of the federal government to deal with those concerns.

"It's a much more global stage than a small province like New Brunswick could do by cutting out one small program."

According to the Confucius Institute of New Brunswick's web site the program hosted 5441 New Brunswick students in 2016. (Confucius Institute of New Brunswick website)

Yu also said she is personally offended by Cardy's portrayal of the issue, which she says is misleading to those who may have never been to China.

"China is nowadays very open. It's not like government is monitoring everyone 24 hours and so on."

Impact on students and business

Yu said she meets lots of teachers from New Brunswick in China, and there's value in the program for students in both countries.

She said students in China who take the New Brunswick curriculum are better prepared to come to the province to attend university, and New Brunswick students who take the Chinese curriculum have the experience they need to work in China.

"There are so many people that have been working over decades, building the relationships."

She said the way the issue has played out publicly is also a concern for Chinese people looking to immigrate to New Brunswick.

With files from Harry Forestell