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Ain't no such thing as a free Chinese lunch

China When Miami Dade College and its new Beijing fraternity brothers last month signed a deal for a Chinese government-funded institute on campus, you could have cut the cuteness with a knife. Chinese jugglers! Chinese bamboo-flute players! Chinese folksingers crooning Guantanamera!

Here's what you didn't see: Chinese executioners shooting political dissidents in the head! Chinese jailers locking up members of ``heterodox religions'' in secret labor camps! Chinese spies sleeping with FBI agents and relaying their pillow talk back to Beijing!

But don't worry. We'll likely get to that part soon enough.

With money, teachers and curriculum supplied by the Chinese government, MDC this fall plans to open a Confucious Institute, a propaganda mouthpiece -- and, doubtless, an intelligence front -- disguised as a higher-education program.

More than 500 Confucious Institutes have opened around the world during the past decade, including 70 or so in the United States. As painfully pinched by the economy as everybody else, colleges (among them UCLA, Rutgers and Texas A&M) have been unable to resist the $150,000 or more plus free teachers to offer classes about Chinese language and culture.

Why not? China is the world's emerging economic superpower. Whether it's learning to speak Mandarin or just cook with a wok, what could it hurt? And it's not even a compromise of academic principles -- the funding comes from a nongovernmental organization, the Chinese Language Council International (better known by its Chinese acronym, Hanban). It's like taking money from the Red Cross, right?

Well, not exactly. Hanban is about as nongovernmental as the CIA. It's run by a dozen Chinese government agencies, including those in charge of censorship and monitoring overseas dissidents. Another overseer is the Chinese education ministry. If you agree that Communist armies won World War II and the United States started the Korean War, you'll be a real fan of the education ministry's textbooks. Read my full op-ed column in Tuesday's Miami Herald

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