How Chinese Investment Is Challenging Our Academic Freedom

Written by:
9 August 2019
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Recent scenes of chaos at the University of Queensland as pro- and anti-Hong Kong freedom demonstrators squared off on campus, and reports that the Chinese-based families of anti-communist protesters have received visits from Beijing’s security apparatus, are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to infiltration of our universities by the Chinese Communist Party.

Even more disturbing is the news that a number of our prominent universities have signed highly profitable agreements which essentially give bureaucrats in Beijing control over what is taught at Australian university campuses.

It turns out that numerous universities have signed contracts with Hanban, the agency under China’s education ministry which oversees so-called Confucius Institutes which have sprung up on campuses across the country.

Australia currently has the third-highest number of Confucius Institutes and classrooms in the world, behind the USA and the UK.

The formal mission of the Confucius Institutes is to promote Chinese language and culture around the world.

However the informal mission is to promote a highly uncritical view of Chinese society, and it is considered part of a wider pattern of activities which ensure that the Beijing-determined narrative is adhered to by everyone.

Among other things, this means that subjects known as the “three T’s” — Tibet, Taiwan and Tiananmen Square — cannot be discussed in many classrooms without fear of backlash.

Last year ASIO paid visits to 18 different universities, research interests and internet suppliers regarding the influence of Chinese government.

This month Education Minister Dan Tehan will meet with a number of vice-chancellors to discuss the matter and to work out what can be done to maintain institutional autonomy, control over the curriculum and teaching standards.

This is a good first step but it will not solve the problem.

In March this year, the US government released a report on activities of Confucius Institutes on American campuses and concluded that they were tightly controlled arms of the Chinese government and least 10 US universities have moved to close the doors of the Institutes.

The report also raised the question about whether employees should be classified as foreign agents.

Among the 13 universities which currently host Confucius Institutes in Australia, and which have handed over academic freedom to Beijing, are the Universities of Sydney and Queensland respectively.

All this raises grave questions about the state of free intellectual inquiry in Australia, as well as the influence of the Chinese government on campuses.

It also exposes the double standards and utter hypocrisy of the vocal academics who, over the past two years, have been fighting tooth and nail to prevent the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation from running a Bachelor of Arts in Western Civilisation on their campuses.

Since the Ramsay Centre announced its intentions to partner with Australian universities, we have heard endlessly from these academics that its mere presence would somehow endanger academic freedom.

ANU’s academic union branch president Matthew King said he was “very concerned that this (BA in Western Civilisation) would violate the core principles of academic freedom, integrity and independence”.

In the meantime the University of Queensland, which is currently in negotiations with Ramsay Centre, has had to reassure its staff that “the University will only pursue a partnership with the Ramsay Centre providing it is consistent with the University’s policies of autonomy over curriculum, academic appointments, academic freedom and governance arrangements”.

Yet the same university seemed unwilling or unable to stop 200 pro-CCP students who were filmed aggressively yelling, blasting the Chinese national anthem and even punching and kicking pro-democracy in Hong Kong protesters on campus.

The university’s statement is unsatisfactory to say the least.

It did not name the pro-CCP students as the perpetrators of the violence nor did it mention disciplinary action.

It did not even mention how violent the protests had actually been, despite viral videos being widely available on social media.

The significant number of Chinese students at the university might go a long way to explaining the university’s lacklustre statement and response.

As yet, the University of Queensland has not signed up to the model code on free speech recommended by former chief justice Robert French.

Time and time again, staff have bandied about the phrases “academic freedom” and “integrity” when they have happily and willingly signed away both to Beijing. The sheer hypocrisy is astounding.

The fact of the matter is that academic freedom has absolutely nothing to do with the opposition to the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation.

Even when the University of Sydney’s Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence announced that he would consider taking the Centre’s $64 million grant if it gave the university complete control over the curriculum, the reading list and the academic appointments, the staff continued to oppose it.

This fury results partly from a certain complacency on behalf of some members of academia, who for years have happily presumed Western Civilisation, both as a concept and a unit of study, to be long since dead and buried.

The Ramsay Centre has rudely and violently interrupted their ideological reverie of a world without Western Civilisation.

Such is their loathing of Western civilisation that they have chosen to hand over academic autonomy to an authoritarian Communist regime via the Confucius Institutes.

They have shown that they would prefer this to their own civilisation, which has given all of us a liberal democracy, the rule of law, equality under the law, freedom of speech, and conscience and religion, which are the values and institutions which make Australia the successful, peaceful and prosperous nation that it is today.

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