The Austrian newspaper Kommersant reported on May 14 that a spokesman for the Austrian military confirmed to the newspaper that civil servants go to the Confucius Institute to take Chinese language courses. In exceptional cases, teachers from the Confucius Institute also come to teach at Austrian military sites, such as the Theresia Military Academy in the new city of Vienna.
In response, Richard Trappl, 70, the Austrian director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Vienna, wrote to the newspaper in reply, “The Confucius Institute at the University of Vienna can be compared to a language intermediary, such as the Cervantes Institute or the Berlitz Language School.” He declined multiple interview requests from reporters. The newspaper reported that officials from the Austrian military also receive Chinese language training at the controversial institution. Sweden, also a member of the European Union, closed its last Confucius Institute back in April last year. Universities in the United States, Germany and Australia have also recently ended, suspended or renegotiated their cooperation with Confucius Institutes.
A spokeswoman for the Austrian military confirmed to the newspaper that officers are taking Chinese language courses at the Confucius Institutes. In exceptional cases, teachers also come to teach at armed forces sites, such as the Theresia Military Academy in the new city of Vienna. The newspaper mentioned that the fact that Austrian military officers are learning Chinese started in 1997, when a military officer was sent to Beijing. At that time there was no Confucius Institute and the Chinese classes were held by the staff of the Chinese Studies Department, who were paid through a free service contract.
The Confucius Institute at the University of Vienna was established on Sept. 25, 2006, by Beijing Foreign Studies University and the University of Vienna, and is the first Confucius Institute established in Austria. The report said the connection between the Austrian military and Trappl is not limited to the teaching of Chinese: the former military officer lists in his resume that he is a member of the Austrian Defense Ministry’s Scientific Council.
In the past two years, two Austrian military employees have received training for which they paid 7,900 euros, the newspaper said. And several Sinologists told the newspaper that even without the Confucius Institute, there are enough highly qualified native-speaking teachers in Vienna to conduct language courses on this scale.
In addition to the Austrian military, the Confucius Institute also teaches at the country’s Diplomatic Academy. While the Austrian Foreign Ministry recruits future diplomats from the Diplomatic Academy, it does not itself send staff to the Confucius Institute for Chinese language training. A spokesperson for the ministry said, “In line with the political positioning of the EU, Austria sees the People’s Republic of China not only as a partner and economic competitor, but also as a strategic opponent advocating alternative models of governance.”