Suella Braverman’s officials are looking at changes to the Government Authorised Exchange, through which people living abroad can move to the UK temporarily to teach a language.
The Confucius Institute is funded by the Chinese government and promotes the country’s language and culture. It helps teach Mandarin in various UK schools and universities.
Rishi Sunak pledged to ban the body when he ran for the Conservative leadership in the summer of 2022, but now in office has backed away from the campaign promise.
Steps have been taken to limit the Confucius Institute’s influence, such as ending UK government funding and setting up a rival Mandarin language teaching service.
Within the Government Authorised Exchange there are various more specific schemes that allow people to apply for visas. One is to specifically teach at the Confucius Institutes.
The Home Office has done work on whether to close that route into the country. Other routes, such as coming from Taiwan to teach mandarin in the UK, would remain open.
Government split over approach to China
It is unclear whether the developments, first reported in the Mail on Sunday, will lead to an announced change in policy. One well-placed government source thought not.
Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, is understood to be supportive of the move if the Home Office wants to proceed, but the policy brief more directly sits under Mrs Braverman.
Thinking in Whitehall about how to approach the Confucius Institutes comes with the Government buffeted by splits on its Tory backbench on the wider approach to Beijing.
James Cleverly, the Foreign Secretary, on Sunday declined to say whether he had brought up during a recent Beijing trip the arrest of a UK parliamentary researcher on suspicion he was a Chinese spy.
Mr Cleverly said both he and Rishi Sunak, who talked to Chinese counterparts earlier this month at the G20 summit in India, had mentioned “interference in our democracy”.
But, when repeatedly pressed if he specifically raised the spy allegations, the Foreign Secretary said he would not comment on “security related matters”.
Mr Cleverly said: “We raise the sanctity of our democracy, we raise the issues of any kind of interference in our democracies.
“We always highlight the importance that all countries, including China, adhere to their Vienna Convention obligations, that’s the rules that dictate how governments interact and nations interact with each other. So we do raise these issues of concern.
“But, as I say, I am not going to, the Prime Minister will not, and no matter how many times you ask me to, I won’t talk about intelligence or security issues.”
‘We will ensure our interests and values are protected’
Earlier this month, speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Sunak expressed outrage at the spy claim allegations but also defended the need to continue to engage with Beijing.
Mr Sunak said: “The whole House is rightly appalled about reports of espionage in this building. The sanctity of this place must be protected.
“And the right of members to speak their minds without fear or sanction must be maintained. We will defend our democracy – and our security.”
He then defended the wider engagement, saying: “By speaking frankly and directly we will ensure our messages are heard clearly and that our interests and values are protected and promoted.”