This paper presents an on-going study of the enactment of The International Promotion of Chinese Policy (国际汉语推广政策). It explores how Chinese teaching and learning take place in a Chinese university under the Study in China Programme which allows international students, after a period of intensive Chinese language learning, to transfer to academic courses taught in Chinese for Chinese students at the tertiary level. This programme has expanded in recent years in response to the government’s goal to enhance China’s soft power globally. By studying policy documents, engaging in conversations with students and teachers and observing classrooms, our study reveals that there are conflicting interests of social actors at national, institutional and individual levels, causing considerable conflicts and tensions in three aspects: (1) the divergent goals of internationalisation between the government and the higher education institution; (2) the imperative need of academic Chinese for subject learning and the actual offer of Chinese for everyday communication and (3) the competing role of English versus Chinese as a lingua franca for international students in the university setting. These conflicts make it difficult for international students to benefit from the subject courses, and for universities to implement successful language programmes for international students, and this renders the political objective of this programme difficult to achieve. © 2016, The Author(s).