History Professor Steven Levine is a specialist in East Asian affairs at the University of Montana. Fluent In Chinese, Levine was partly responsible for bringing the Confucius Institute to the state, a decision he now says was a “mistake” that has opened the door to Beijing soft power.

"When I was at the Mansfield Center as Associate Director, I was partly responsible for bringing the Confucius Institute to the University of Montana, and, frankly, now I regret it because the Confucius institute, which is not particularly active actually at UM, is in fact an instrument of Chinese soft power."

Levine says the Confucius Institute offered money and language opportunities to the cash-strapped university, but he has come to be very critical of the educational structure of the institute.

"The teachers are very carefully vetted to make sure that they don't differ one syllable from any of the official lines in Beijing," Levine said. "As you get beyond the basic 'ABCs,' so to speak, of Chinese, the books that are used and the teachers that are teaching them are forbidden by their contract from speaking about things like Tibet, for example, or Taiwan, or Liu Xiaobo, the Noble Prize winner that just died. They are constrained and censored basically."

Levine says it is “unfortunate” that Montana’s education system cannot supply language teachers and funds to teach one of the world’s most important languages, rather than rely on Beijing.

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