Although they knew they were propaganda vessels for the Chinese Communist Party, three Dutch knowledge institutions deliberately acquired a Confucius Institute. A reconstruction made by FTM shows how these institutions risk their academic freedom, hoping to establish a better trade relationship with China.
What is this article about?
- Although there already were serious question marks about the nature and purpose of Confucius Institutes – institutions for Chinese language and culture education, directed by the Chinese Ministry of Education – the city of The Hague and Leiden University brought such an institute to their region in 2007. Later, Groningen (2011) and Maastricht (2017) followed.
- Numerous incidents related to the Confucius Institutes have occurred, mostly concerning censorship, curtailment of academic freedom, and – on one occasion – espionage. Back in 2005, the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) warned that Chinese students and scholars in the West have repeatedly been caught spying, usually under the guise of government knowledge intensification programs.
- University administrators take little notice of these warnings; they invariably think they can withstand the pressure. The students – especially those from China or Hong Kong – are the ones who do worry about academic freedom.
Why is this relevant?
- The methodology of the Confucius Institutes is at odds with academic freedom. University Boards and Universities of Applied Sciences are seduced by the budgets provided by China for extra projects and programmes, and hope for a better relationship with China. The knowledge institutions sometimes seem to be blinded by the convenience of a pre-packaged Chinese language course that comes with such an institute.
- The municipalities – and in one case, even the province – also see value in the Confucius Institutes: they hope to improve trade relations between their region and China. They, therefore, donated money to the institutes. As far as Follow the Money was able to trace, the total amount of money involved is almost half a million. The municipality of Groningen is in the lead; it provided 30,000 euros annually for ten years.
How did FTM investigate this?
- FTM read documents released under the freedom of information act, dissected annual accounts, read reports, visited the institute in Maastricht and talked to many people. We did not get hold of everyone: never before did so many people refuse to talk with FTM regarding an article.
There was a party in the Academy Building of the University of Groningen on 27 May 2011. A dancing lion was accompanied by a Chinese dagu-drum and a guzheng, a stringed instrument. An impressive delegation walked behind the lion: the head of the Communication University in China, representatives of the Chinese embassy and the mayor of Groningen, Peter Rehwinkel. They celebrated the opening of the Groningen Confucius Institute.
It was the second Confucius Institute (CI) established in the Netherlands; there were more than 300 worldwide at the time. At first glance, they appear to be ordinary language institutes dedicated to the Chinese language and culture.
But the CIs are controlled and paid for by Hanban, an organisation of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and part of the Chinese Ministry of Education. They are part of the Chinese soft power, a strategy to achieve political goals through charm offensives. Their educational material sometimes praises former dictator Mao Zedong, and avoids the more uncomfortable aspects of Chinese history and politics. Their goal: to improve China's reputation abroad. These institutes have been discredited internationally for violating academic freedom and spying (or attempted spying). More and more are being closed down worldwide.
Why does the Netherlands partner with these institutes?
'I remember when the Chinese Ambassador told us in 2007 the exciting news that The Hague was chosen for the establishment of the first Confucius Institute. This was an exciting progress and was viewed as a kind of reward for the efforts we had made during these years.' Henk Kool, who was then the alderman for Social Affairs, Employment and Economy (PvdA) in The Hague, could hardly suppress his enthusiasm in his closing speech at the Brussels congress ‘EU-China Soft Diplomacy’ in April 2013.
"The CIs may actively promote Chinese policies and ideas, engage in censorship, or encourage self-censorship among students and the wider public"
Relations between the Netherlands and China were quite good at the time, despite the bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen student uprisings against the CCP in 1989 and the continuing human rights violations in China thereafter. But the Netherlands is opportunistic: the government encourages business to venture to China and invites Chinese companies to come here, hoping that China will democratise.
In his speech, Kool explains that several organisations warned him about the possible undesired influence of the CIs but that 'it was difficult to understand such warnings'. Kool: ‘We made comparisons with the French Cultural Institutes Alliance Francaise and the German Goethe Institutesandwe took good note of all this – the Confucius Institute established in the Greater Hague area today is something we are proud of.’
He is not the only one to compare it to European cultural institutes. But much can be said about this: these operate independently and do not provide any programmes in Dutch education, while the CIs act on instructions from the CCP and are often involved in regular Dutch education. Research institute Clingendael comments: ‘This offers Confucius Institutes the opportunity to positively and actively promote Chinese policies and ideas, to engage in censorship, or to encourage self-censorship regarding China among students, pupils, and the wider public’.
Also noteworthy: Kool says he was warned. By whom? He claims to not remember and does not want to talk any further. ‘I am retired,’ he informs FTM. Employees of the then West-Holland Foreign Investment Agency – an alliance of West-Holland municipalities and also the initiator of the Netherlands’ first Confucius Institute – either do not answer emails or state that they do not want to talk about it.
Did those warnings come from the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD), or the Ministry of Education? They declined to provide answers on the subject. However, as early as 2005, the AIVD and Dutch Military intelligence and Security Service (MIVD) reported that Chinese students and scientists in the West were repeatedly caught spying, usually under the guise of government programmes for knowledge intensification. The municipality of The Hague, co-founder of the institute, informed FTM that it cannot reconstruct from its own documents how the initiative came about, let alone who warned whom.
‘They are directed by the Communist Party, so it would be naive to think that there are no political agendas’
Leiden University was also involved; according to Chinese rules, CIs must always involve a knowledge institute of the country it is based in, preferably a university. The Hague CI was therefore linked to Leiden University, which has a campus in The Hague. However, after five years, the institute moved to Leiden. Otherwise, Hanban would withdraw, Rint Sybesma, who was director of the Leiden CI between 2011 and 2017, told NRC Handelsblad in 2018.
Sybesma told FTM that the Leiden Confucius Institute contributed little to the university, which already had a renowned China department. ‘We mainly wanted to cooperate with China in terms of research, while the CI primarily provided services to people outside the university. The staff members of our China studies department also found it to be of little use to their research.’ According to Sybesma, this was why the university closed the institute in 2019.
Sybesma does not doubt that the CIs are about more than just language and culture. ‘They are directed by the Communist Party, so it would be naive to think that there are no political agendas.’ However, he has never noticed anything of this nature himself.
Groningen: improving trade relations through language lessons
In 2010, three years after the opening of the Confucius Institute in The Hague, the Hanzehogeschool in Groningen also wanted one. Dean Paul Ganzeboom saw opportunities to strengthen trade relations with China through language lessons. ‘Trade is pre-eminently what links the Netherlands to China,’ he said in an interview with the university magazine in 2009. ‘Do not forget that the Dutch East India Company was [..] the first multinational in history.’ Twelve years later, Ganzeboom does not want to say anything about the institute.
In China, Hanban received the ‘Influence the World Award’, a prize for influencing countries abroad
For Hanban, cooperation with Hanzehogeschool was insufficient ‘to guarantee an academic environment’; it demanded that the University of Groningen join. And so it did.
Meanwhile, it became clear that the CIs act as an extension of the Chinese Communist Party. In 2010, when the Groningen negotiations were in full swing, Hanban received the Chinese ‘Influence the World Award’, a prize for influencing the rest of the world. At the award ceremony, it was stated that ‘the Confucius Institutes are China’s best export product’. Director and founder of Hanban, Xu Lin, said: ‘People often ask me about the Confucius Institute's role in soft power. We are indeed trying to expand our influence.’
But in Groningen, CIs were not seen as a political instrument, as we learned in an interview with Benni Leemhuis, council member for GroenLinks since 2010. The arrival of the institute was a slam dunk in the council: nobody had any objections. ‘The University of Groningen made its own decisions. But apparently, China needed support from the municipality, so we examined the law and checked whether the minister approved of this.’ Like Kool, Leemhuis says: ‘The Institut Français and others are also allowed, so there were checks. We didn’t consider it to be a political issue.’
‘By now, we know that Hanban plays a much more poignant role. But I think it is difficult to call it a naive decision in hindsight. The situation in China and the perspective on China have changed.’ In 2011, Leemhuis did submit a motion in the council about democracy and human rights in China and the Groningen city link with the city of Xi’an. ‘But this institution was assessed in the light of a cultural exchange. That clearly indicates how differently these matters were assessed at the time,’ he says.
The University of Groningen had been forging ties with China for some time. For example, it had had a Dutch Studies Centre at Fudan University since 2005. Sibrand Poppema, the chairman of the board, increased the focus on this. The Groningen Confucius Institute (GCI) opened in 2011, the Centre for East Asian Studies in 2013, a chair in Chinese and an Amsterdam branch of the GCI followed in 2016, and the icing on the cake was the plan for a University of Groningen campus in Yantai, to be realised in 2018.
China is moving to centre stage: it’s expected to overtake the United States soon to become the world’s biggest economy. The country is going all out to get its hands on valuable technology, and plans to be an independent technological superpower by 2025. What does this mean for the Netherlands, with which China has close ties?
Xuefei Knoester-Cao, international advisor for the University of Groningen and the director of the GCI, played an important role in all negotiations. So important, in fact, that in 2016 she received a royal decoration for her achievements. Her husband, Jasper Knoester, Dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering, was one of the advocates of the Yantai campus.
In the meantime, several Groningen students were getting concerned about the university's lack of transparency regarding these international collaborations and the safeguarding of their academic freedom. In 2017, they decided to establish a student movement: the Democratic Academy Groningen (DAG). Co-founder Koen Marée: ‘We had attended a lecture on the future of the academic community and the university’s focus on profitability. The next morning, my roommate Jasper Been walked into my room and said: “Koen, we need a new student party.”’
That same evening, ten students squeezed themselves into a small student dorm room. While coffee and biscuits were being passed around, they decided that a movement was more suitable than a party. ‘The university council is great, but it doesn't have that much power,’ says Marée, ‘we wanted to impact outside the council as well.’ They organised demonstrations, wrote editorials, did research, made the news several times and were even mentioned in debates in the Dutch Parliament.
Marée discovered that board chairman Poppema is a member of the umbrella council of all CIs worldwide
The Yantai project bothered them. The university administration dismissed their concerns and objections about academic freedom concerning the cooperation with China and lacked accountability, according to Marée. ‘They only came up with practical solutions, such as an exception for the use of Google on campus.’ Board chairman Poppema preferred to talk about the international position of the university and the tens of thousands of extra students that the Chinese campus would bring. ‘It was a mammoth prestige project,’ says Marée.
The obscure relationship with the GCI also bothered Marée. ‘I kept asking myself: who does what?’ He discovered, for example, that chairman of the board Poppema is a member of the umbrella council of all CIs worldwide. The director of the GCI, Knoester-Cao, was also involved in negotiations regarding the Yantai campus, and work was underway on a Bachelor of Chinese in which the GCI would play a role. This way, the institute would surely fuse with the university.
To gain more insight into the ties and money flows between the GCI and the university, Marée and a colleague sent a freedom of information request to the University of Groningen in the summer of 2018. They received some of the documents at the beginning of 2019: the contracts between Hanban and the University of Groningen, but according to the university, email correspondence and memos from the GCI’s board meetings did not exist.
That same year, the Dutch CIs attracted controversy for the first time. In January 2019, a television programme called Medialogica devoted a broadcast to the institutes, from which it emerged, among other things, that subjects that China considers controversial, such as the independence of Tibet, Taiwan and Hong Kong, are taboo there, and in the Confucius Classrooms at secondary schools. The GCI even received a powder letter – which turned out to be harmless – and was evacuated. Around the same time, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel stopped its collaboration with Hanban after the director of the Brussels CI was accused of espionage.
Nevertheless, in consultation with Hanzehogeschool and the municipality, the University of Groningen extended the contract with Hanban in 2020. The university council protests in vain. The university's board told the university newspaper UKrant that it saw ‘no reason to stop this collaboration’.
Several Hong Kong students at the University of Groningen couldn’t stand it any longer. They started a petition against the GCI: they feel unsafe because of the Chinese presence in Groningen and are worried about their academic freedom. Many of them no longer dare express their views on Chinese politics.
In March 2021, the university’s current chairman, Jouke de Vries, received the petition. One of the Hong Kong students tells FTM: ‘De Vries said it is important that we can discuss this freely, but at the same time, he did not make any promises, except that he is monitoring the situation.’ The students feel they are not being taken seriously, although the university council spoke to the university’s board about it that day.
There, De Vries said: ‘We certainly do not deny the problems in China, such as human rights and the situation in Tibet. We understand the sensitivity and want to distance the CI from the university. [...] I have not received any complaints from anyone regarding poor functioning. I have asked the security services to provide concrete examples of potential threats from the CI, and I have not received them. We need a framework from the government to intervene.’ However, the Dutch Ministry of Education tells FTM that ‘universities have the freedom to determine for themselves, within the limits of the law, with whom and with what goal they conclude agreements.’
Confucius under Xi
In November 2012, Xi Jinping started his reign as an ‘improved’ version of former dictator Mao Zedong. He tightens the reins, and censorship under Xi’s reign is more stringent than under Mao’s. The Chinese soft power strategy is flourishing.
Gradually, more countries look at the CIs with distrust: from 2013 to 2016, thirteen are closed
The reputation of the CIs deteriorates rapidly due to a series of incidents. For example, in 2013, Sydney University postponed the Dalai Lama’s visit after pressure from an Australian CI: the Chinese see him as a dangerous Tibetan separatist. In 2014, a passage on environmental activism in China was removed from a book for high school students sponsored by a CI. Hanban director Xu Lin also had CI staff tear pages from the programme booklet for a Portuguese conference: it listed a Taiwanese sponsor.
That same year, a critical documentary about a Canadian CI was broadcast. A teacher fled the institute to avoid religious persecution at home in China. This leads to the second closure of a Confucius Institute worldwide. Gradually, more countries look at the CIs with distrust: from 2013 to 2016, thirteen are closed.
Maastricht: getting to know a modern-day China
In 2016, despite all the commotion, the plan for a Confucius Institute in Maastricht at the Zuyd University of Applied Sciences was finalised. The goal: ‘to provide a platform for official, business and private audiences in the Limburg region’.
Karel van Rosmalen, the then president of the executive board, travelled to China with lecturers Xinxin Wang and Rob Kuster to sign the contract. They are well received by the colleagues of DUFE, the Chinese sister university. They dine according to Chinese tradition in a private room of a restaurant. ‘And then someone brings a box containing a bottle that looks very expensive. They brought it from their home especially for you,’ says Van Rosmalen. ‘But it tasted terrible. Imagine drinking a glass of cognac that tastes a bit salty.’
His Chinese colleagues made a good impression on him, he tells FTM. ‘The boss of such a university is someone appointed by the Communist Party and who is then called secretary and president. I did shake hands with him, but the real contact was with the more hands-on people.’ For example, there was a rector, a cheerful woman, with whom he and Xinxin had discussions on subjects like feminism and abortion. ‘We did not sit at the table with those hardcore communists,’ Van Rosmalen concludes. How did he know that? ‘I don’t deny the possibility that I might find a member of the Communist Party a fine fellow, but you quickly sense when someone is a seasoned communist – I’ve also sat with them: old-fashioned clothing, fewer jokes and discussions. They just tell you how great China is doing.’
Van Rosmalen does not think it was naive to bring the institute to Maastricht. On the one hand, because he has confidence in their sister university, with which Zuyd has been cooperating for a long time, and on the other hand, because Zuyd does not conduct any scientific research. ‘I can imagine that it is different for universities because of academic freedom being at stake.’ According to him, that is less relevant for his university of applied sciences, because it does not research subjects related to China. Also, he claims, the CI is completely separate from Zuyd’s regular education, so 'the Chinese have no influence on it'.
‘A Confucius Institute also brings along a bit of funding’
If he wanted extra staffing so badly, could he not have recruited Chinese teachers from Taiwan or Malaysia instead of establishing a CI? Zuyd has such teachers for regular Chinese language education, Van Rosmalen explains, but these countries, unlike the CI, do not have educational programmes. Besides: ‘You can think whatever you want about China, but when you educate people in the Chinese language and culture in the Netherlands, you have no choice but to introduce them to modern-day China, with all its merits and demerits.’ An additional advantage: ‘A Confucius Institute also brings along a bit of funding.’
Follow the Money was able to inspect the annual accounts and contracts of the Confucius Institute in Maastricht, and, in combination with FOIA-documents relating to the institute in Groningen and its annual reports, was able to sketch a proper picture of the financial flows behind the institutes. However, there is one blind spot: Leiden University refused to answer questions on the former financial flows at the Leiden CI, and the municipality of The Hague 'cannot find anything' on structural funding of that institute.
CIs offer universities and universities of applied sciences extra staffing, almost for free, to provide more Chinese courses outside the curriculum. China funds the start-up of the CIs, and the Chinese sister university seconds a number of people full time. The Dutch knowledge institutions only have to supply classrooms and second a part-time director.
Local governments also contribute, hoping that the CIs will result in better connections with China and that the language and culture courses will help regional companies do business with Chinese companies. But the municipalities and provinces have been slowly withdrawing from the CIs in recent years, ‘purely for business reasons’, they state. At the end of 2019, the municipality of Groningen decided to discontinue its annual subsidy with effect from 2021. According to council member Jasper Been (GroenLinks), it did so because the municipality was struggling with large deficits. Maastricht and Limburg have both cancelled their annual ‘incentive subsidy’ of 20,000 euros, according to the annual accounts of the Maastricht CI.
The infographic below shows who contributes what.
Leiden, Groningen, and Maastricht knew – or could have known – that they were bringing in controversial institutes. Rachelle Peterson, senior researcher at the American National Association of Scholars, investigated the CIs and believes the Dutch knowledge institutions to be naive. ‘The Chinese government wants to absorb Western institutes in order to reduce criticism. Universities always say they can handle the risks, but so far, they have not proven that they can,’ Peterson tells FTM.
This also applies to the Netherlands. Koen Marée’s FOAI documents – which he has since circulated via Twitter – show that Oliver Moore, professor of Chinese language and culture, whose salary is paid by both the University of Groningen and Hanban, acts under a contract signed in 2014 stating that he must not 'seriously' violate Chinese law and ‘must not harm China’s image’. The University of Groningen also accepted that the GCI’s activities had to respect Chinese ‘cultural customs’ and ‘must not act contrary to the laws and regulations in both the Netherlands and China’. In the contract with Zuyd University of Applied Sciences, which FTM was able to inspect, there are no such clauses to be found.
In recent years, the Chinese government has been more restrained in its demands on CIs. Also, the name of Hanban has been changed in an attempt to restore the reputation of the institutes. Hanban is now called the Center for Language Education and Cooperation and has become a non-governmental organisation. But according to CI researcher Rachelle Peterson, China does not actually have any NGOs. ‘The partner organisations of the new foundation all have board members with positions within the Communist Party. The CIs are still being run by the government.’
"Universities always say they can handle the risks, but so far, they have not proven that they can"
In practice, little has changed indeed. Sam Hao, a Chinese PhD student in Groningen, tells FTM that Confucius teachers abroad are still tightly controlled. In 2016, he completed part of the procedure in China to become a Confucius volunteer in Europe. At that course, CI teachers who had returned to China told them how to provide the ‘right’ answers when foreign students asked awkward questions. Try to change the subject or say that Tibet has been liberated from its oppressors by the ‘new’ China. ‘You have to defend China’s image,’ says Sam, ‘and when foreigners spread gossip about China in the media, you have to fight back.’
Waking up too late
Commissioned by the Dutch Ministries of Education, Culture and Science (OCW), Foreign Affairs and Defence, Brigitte Dekker of research institute Clingendael and her colleague Ingrid d'Hooghe conducted an exploratory study into China’s influence on education in the Netherlands in 2020. They came to the cautious conclusion that political influence from China via the CIs is not as bad as it seems. However, the researchers see clear forms of self-censorship among knowledge institutions that cooperate with Chinese institutions. What is particularly striking is that the ministries knew little about the CIs in the Netherlands. ‘The government did not have much insight into what was happening, which is why they asked us to look into it,’ says Dekker.
The Lower House also woke up too late. Several members of parliament only started to ask the minister of Education, Ingrid van Engelshoven (D66), critical questions about these institutions after the Medialogica broadcast in early 2019. By then, the CI in Leiden had existed for over ten years.
The minister’s reaction is very moderate: according to her, the Education Inspectorate, after having been in contact with the two universities, sees no reason for further investigation. In response to a question about sinologist Oliver Moore being paid by the University of Groningen and Hanban, she replies: ‘the professor in question, who has a full five-year tenure, reports to the Dean of that faculty [Literature]. Therefore, there is no reason to be concerned about the relevant person's autonomy.’
The minister emphasised that universities should not ‘haggle’ with academic freedom
Only when, in early 2021, the NOS reveals the news about the professor’s contractual self-censorship – he is not allowed to ‘damage China’s image’ – and members of parliament from the CDA and VVD ask questions, did Van Engelshoven spring into action. She holds talks with the University of Groningen, which then decides to terminate the agreement with Hanban, the headquarters of the CIs. In the radio programme Nieuws en Co, the Minister expressed her concern about the institutes and emphasised that universities should not ‘haggle’ with academic freedom.
The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science informs FTM that it had known about this agreement before but that this specific clause only came to light due to the Clingendael study of June 2020. According to the Ministry, this report was the reason for entering into talks with the University of Groningen.
Academic freedom on sale
For China, the Confucius Institutes are a way to expand its soft power further, but what do the Dutch actually want with them?
The institutes are no cash cow for the knowledge institutes. All profits go back into the foundation, according to the annual accounts. The profits mainly regard the trade between China and the region where the institutes are located, as it appears from the involvement of in Groningen of the aldermen of Finance and Economy and a deputy director business development, and the number of business courses given by the institutes.
In 2020, the mayor of Groningen presented an overview of the GCI’s ‘business successes’ to the city council. Between 2015 and 2019, 62 companies and organisations are said to have made use of the GCI’s services. These included, amongst others, workshops on doing business in China, market research or organising trade delegations to China.
In GCI's 2010 budget, most of the income was expected to come from business services. A standard ten-day language course costs 250 euros per person, but for the ten-day course ‘Doing Business in China’, the institute charges 10,000 euros per person, with an average of ten participants per course. The Groningen institute serves more than 600 course participants and more than 1,500 students annually.
The Maastricht CI also offers business courses. According to director Xinxin Wang, the trade benefits of the institutes are mostly indirect: when companies employ people with a command of the language or an understanding of the business culture, they are more able to help their Chinese clients and may also establish themselves in China. The actual profit is therefore difficult to measure.
‘It’s strange that students are more likely to stand up for academic freedom than the the knowledge institutions themselves’
When FTM explains the Dutch situation to American CI-researcher Rachelle Peterson, she reacts with surprise: ‘In America, trade is not meant to enter the institute.’ The emphasis is much more on language education, she says. Apparently, Hanban is flexible and is willing to adapt the institutes to the requirements of the region where they are located, Peterson says. ‘And the Chinese government probably wants both: education and trade connections.’
The question remains: what are we willing to do?
Koen Marée of the Democratic Academy Groningen finds it strange that students and journalists are more likely to stand up for academic freedom than the Ministry of Education or the knowledge institutions themselves. He understands that the university wants to offer Chinese lessons, but according to him, this can also be done without a Confucius Institute. ‘They have, quite simply, a financial interest: without a CI, they would have to pay for it all themselves. I don’t know why the university continues to cooperate with them. That is exactly what I want to know.’
- Xuefei Knoester-Cao, GCI Director: refused an interview and a visit.
- Sibrand Poppema, former chair of the University of Groningen Board: only gave a brief statement.
- The university’s communication department and current chair of the Board Jouke de Vries: after weeks of emailing and calling, FTM received a response of which one of the answers was literally copied from an email sent by the Hanze University of Applied Sciences two weeks earlier. According to De Vries, it took so long because the Confucius Institute has a rotating presidency, and all presidents had to check the answer.
- Paul Ganzeboom, dean of the Hanze University of Applied Sciences: no longer wants to talk to journalists about CI.
- Municipality of Groningen: referred us to an online archive, suggesting documents to look for.
- Peter Rehwinkel (PvdA), Mayor of Groningen: did not respond.
- Rob Kuster, Chinese language teacher, is no longer connected to Zuyd University of Applied Sciences and does not wish to speak for or on behalf of them.
- Municipality of Maastricht: responded briefly with quotes from a city council document.
- Henk Kool, former alderman for Economic Affairs (PvdA) from The Hague: is retired and does not want to talk to journalists anymore.
- Frits Huffnagel, former alderman for City Marketing (VVD) from The Hague: remembers almost nothing about the founding of the Confucius Institute.
- Municipality of The Hague: says it can find almost nothing on it in their archives.
- Leiden University: refers to the press release on its website about ending the cooperation with the Confucius Institute.
- Imanda Wapenaar, founder and former director of the West-Holland Foreign Investment Agency, did not respond; Marleen Zuijderhoudt, former director of WFIA, said she had no experience with the Confucius Institute and did not want to refer us to colleagues. Arthur Steenmeijer, general manager WFIA, did not respond either. Laurens Kok, head of foreign investments at WFIA, did not want to cooperate because colleagues involved at WFIA have left or are retired. Finally, Tracy Zhao, advisor China Desk WFIA, said she had ‘no experience’ with the Confucius Institute.