BEIJING/SEOUL (Reuters) - China’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday that it hoped the government-funded Confucius Institute could continue to play a role in South Korea after the government there said it had stopped issuing visas for some Chinese teachers.
The visa decision comes amid anger in China at the planned deployment of an advanced U.S. anti-missile system in South Korea, which it says is to defend against North Korea, but which China says threatens its security, as its radar could extend into China.
China says its Confucius Institutes around the world are established by universities to promote Chinese-language learning and academic and cultural exchange.
The South Korean government said it had stopped issuing visas for some Chinese teachers at Confucius Institutes and the justice ministry said the decision had nothing to do with THAAD, as the anti-missile system is known.
South Korea’s foreign ministry said on Thursday the measure to stop issuing or extending visas had been implemented since last June for practical reasons based on the immigration control law, playing down any political motive.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Confucius Institutes in South Korea were set up at the request of South Korean universities, and South Korea had an obligation to ensure the correct visa procedures were followed.
The affected Confucius Institutes were in touch with the South Korean government to sort the matter out, Lu told a daily news briefing.
“As a Chinese government department, we hope that both sides can work hard, and that the Confucius Institute can continue to help South Korea people learn Chinese, to play a positive role in increasing bilateral mutual trust and friendship.”
Relations between staunch U.S. ally South Korea and communist China were poor for decades but have improved in recent years as their economic ties have expanded.
In some countries the Confucius Institutes have raised concerns that they threaten academic freedom, conduct surveillance of Chinese students abroad and promote the political aims of China’s ruling Communist Party.
China has dismissed such concerns as unwarranted.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Ju-min Park in Seoul