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Chinese Confucius Institute Project Raises Concern in Vietnam

A plan to establish an organization that promotes Chinese languages and culture in Vietnam has drawn criticism from Vietnamese scholars, who say Beijing is trying to invade the country with its ideology.

The agreement to set up a Confucius Institute in Hanoi was reached during Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang's visit to Vietnam this month.

But the plan has sparked heated debate on social networks in Vietnam.

Dr. Nguyen Nha, an expert on the Chinese-Vietnamese relationship, told VOA's Vietnamese Service that Beijing wants to exert its soft power through cultural influences.

"During the cultural revolution, China knocked down Confucianism, and now wants to resurrect it to influence neighboring countries and those it targets. The move does not benefit Vietnam."

Nha said China has succeeded in enhancing its power in Vietnam in terms of economics as Vietnamese markets are filled with Chinese products and Vietnam has huge trade deficits with its much larger neighbor.

Paulo Thanh Nguyen, who owns a shop that boycotts Chinese goods, said the Confucius Institute is a tool for China to show its hegemony.

He added that China has long spread its culture to Vietnam through movies and dramas that dominate Vietnamese TV screens.

"China aims to be hegemonic in culture. It promotes its cultural values through the hidden messages in those entertainment products."

The Confucius Institute headquarters in Beijing refused comment for this story when contacted by VOA.

Over 400 Confucius Institutes are reported to be present at universities around the world.

As pointed out by an editorial in the official China Daily newspaper, which defended the mission of the Confucius Institutes, many countries have organizations dedicated to promoting their language and culture abroad. The editorial says one such entity is France's Alliance Francaise, which has been running French language and cultural centers around the world since 1883.

But the Vietnamese protests follow decades of tensions between the two neighbors. Vietnam and China engaged in a short but bloody border war in the 1970s, and the two countries continue to have territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

(This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.)

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