Human rights campaigners have attacked First Minister Nicola Sturgeon for expanding Scotland's network of controversial Confucius Classrooms.

Free Tibet - which lobbies on behalf of the Himalayan nation occupied by China - has long argued that the SNP is being naive over the sheer might of "soft power" that Beijing is exerting through language teaching at universities and schools.

Scotland - which has little of its own expertise in Chinese language and culture - has come to rely on Beijing-funded teachers in recent years amid strong cross-party political support for the subject.

Ms Sturgeon, on a trip to China, at the weekend announced that an additional 21 Confucius Classrooms would be paid for by the Chinese at Scottish schools.

Alistair Currie of Free Tibet said: "We appreciate the challenges schools face in providing Chinese-language teaching and we strongly believe that increased contact between the people of China and the people of Scotland is a positive thing.

"Our concern is that, in the case of Confucius Classrooms, the Scottish Government is facilitating that teaching and contact on terms which give influence over children to a government that suppresses free speech inside its own borders and which is responsible for widespread human rights abuses, particularly in Tibet.

"In its urgency to trade with China, the Scottish Government is at risk of forgetting that the Chinese government's gifts come with strings attached.

"This is an undemocratic, human rights abusing regime that would prefer we ignore all of that: that's what it wants in Scottish classrooms too. The government shouldn't be laying down a red carpet for China's charm offensive."

Scotland has Confucius Institutes at four universities for adult learners and a fifth at Strathclyde, which acts as a learning hub for schools.

Under the current deal, the Chinese will provide 21 new classrooms. This will be on top of the 14 Confucius Classrooms which are already established across 18 Scottish local authorities.

The Chinese Government body responsible has already admitted that it does not allow criticism of the Communist regime at its Institutes, including over Tibet. However, Scottish educational authorities have dismissed claims that Chinese propaganda is making its way in to schools. They insist Scottish teachers remain in control in classrooms, not Chinese ones who are barred from criticising their regime.

Ms Sturgeon, announcing the new classrooms in China, said:

"We want our young people to be better prepared for life and work in a multi-cultural, global marketplace and Mandarin is one of the world’s most widely spoken languages.

"Evidence shows that early language learning improves literacy and that young children learn languages more easily.

Fhiona Fisher, director of the Confucius Institute for Scotland’s Schools, the hub at Strathclyde, was also in China.

She said: "The First Minister’s presence underlines the importance of the work we do in CISS to promote understanding and awareness of China - the world’s most populous nation and one of its fastest-growing economies.

"China is one of Strathclyde’s most significant overseas markets. Our role at Confucius is in keeping with the University’s international ethos and is designed to cultivate knowledge of China in prospective future students."

Last year Strathclyde University's main expert in language teaching, Dan Tierney, dismissed Chinese as "less relevant" than mainstream European languages. He has since retired.

Many language teachers, who believe their discipline has been neglected for decades, regard Confucius Classrooms as a fig leaf disguising decline.