Canada's spy service believes China has enlisted Confucius, the master of enduring wisdom, in its drive for global dominance.
A newly declassified intelligence report by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service says Beijing is out to win the world's hearts and minds, not just its economic markets, as a means of cementing power.
The secret CSIS brief, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, points to the creation of more than 100 Confucius Institutes around the world, including one at the British Columbia Institute of Technology in Vancouver.
The Confucius Institutes, the brainchild of Beijing's Ministry of Education, primarily promote Chinese language and culture.
"In other words, China wants the world to have positive feelings toward China and things Chinese," the CSIS report says.
"For China to achieve its goals, people must admire China to some degree."
In 2005, The Globe and Mail reported on the opening of 27 branches of the Confucius Institute around the world in less than a year, including one at BCIT. The article warned about a "charm offensive" on the part of Beijing, and its plans to open 100 such institutes around the world before 2010.
CSIS director Jim Judd recently acknowledged the agency devotes considerable effort to keeping an eye on monitoring Chinese operatives.
The CSIS report, portions of which were blacked out, paints the spread of Confucius Institutes as a calculated use of the discipline known as "soft power."
"While academics debate the relative importance of hard power - tanks, missiles, guns and the like - versus soft power, the People's Republic of China government views the soft power concept as useful," the February intelligence report says. Since the opening of Canada's first Confucius Institute, agreements have been struck to create institutes in Waterloo, Ont., Montreal and Moncton, N.B.
Robin Yates, a professor of East Asian studies at Montreal's McGill University, said China is trying to play catch-up with Taiwan, Korea and Japan, which have been more aggressive about forging cultural ties with the West.
"China, with its burgeoning economy, has failed rather miserably in its efforts at projecting its interests."
But "evidence of the increasing appeal of Chinese culture in Western society is all around us," the intelligence report says.
The growing popularity of Chinese films, the emergence of NBA star Yao Ming, Chinese manned space flights and the coming 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing "all suggest at least a modest rise in Chinese soft power."
CSIS says once the Beijing Olympics are over, the Confucius Institutes will "take a more prominent place in China's efforts to increase its standing in the world."