China’s assault on free speech in Australia and New Zealand

Last year, we wrote about Confucius Institutes, Red China’s vehicle for conducting ideological warfare in the United States. Beginning in 2004, the Chinese government planted “Institutes” that offer Chinese language and culture courses at colleges and universities around the world, including more than 100 in the United States.

As the National Association of Scholars (NAS) has documented, the Confucius Institutes avoid Chinese political history and human rights abuses, portray Taiwan and Tibet as undisputed territories of China, and educate a generation of American students to know nothing more of China than the regime’s official history.

China induces colleges and universities to cooperate in its propaganda war — assuming much inducement is required — not just by providing funding, free textbooks, and teachers, but also by attracting full-tuition paying Chinese students, funding scholarships for Americans to study abroad, and serving as a conduit through which college presidents and administrators enjoy trips to, and state dinners in, China.

China’s penetration of our educational system is a serious matter. However, its penetration in Australian and New Zealand is even more unsettling.

According to this report in the Washington Post, Chinese students have poured into these two countries by the hundreds of thousands over the past 20 years. Paying the full price for their education, they make higher education a top “export” earner for both nations.

Now, according to the same report, Chinese students are interfering with anti-Beijing protests and stifling free speech on campuses in Australia and New Zealand:

Every pro-democracy protest is countered by Beijing’s well-drilled student supporters. When some University of Sydney students proposed a protest Friday — which did not proceed — opponents shared notes on WeChat, the Chinese messaging and social media platform, about how to respond.

“The pro-Hong Kong independence demonstration on August 9 is planned by some forces of Sydney University,” one person wrote, according to an image taken by a student. “We will not use force, but will absolutely not sit idly by and do nothing. [We] will fight the separatist forces to the end using legal means. Never make a concession!!”

The person, who could not be reached for comment, added in the message that they had “reported this to the education section” of the Chinese Consulate.

When dissidents on campuses in Australia and New Zealand erect signs protesting Chinese policies — e.g., regarding Hong Kong — Beijing-supporting Chinese students rip them down. Chinese diplomats in the two countries encourage confrontations with dissidents and praise those who do the confronting:

On July 29, a student at New Zealand’s Auckland University was confronted by a group of men who objected to her involvement in adorning a protest site, known as a “Lennon Wall,” with messages of support for Hong Kong’s demonstrators.

Cellphone footage uploaded to social media showed one of the men moving aggressively toward the student, who fell to the ground.

Three days later, the Chinese Consulate General in Auckland published a statement that appeared to support the actions of the alleged assailant and his companions, conveying its “appreciation to the students for their spontaneous patriotism,” while condemning unnamed people for “inciting anti-China sentiment.”

China’s aggressive assault on campus free speech in Australia and New Zealand puts these governments in an uncomfortable position. They don’t like the assault, but they depend to a considerable degree on the Chinese money that pours into their countries, not just from Chinese students but also from trade.

The result, according to Clive Hamilton, a professor at Charles Sturt University in Camberra, Australia, is “widespread self-censorship by universities and academics in Australia and New Zealand.” The University of Queensland, where punches were thrown at a Hong Kong sympathy protest recently, is so close to Chinese authorities that it appointed the Chinese consul general in Brisbane a visiting professor of language and culture last month.

Chinese students and their government handlers appear to be mastering the art of manipulating public sentiment in Australia and New Zealand:

[S]tudents please be calm, don’t resort to violence,” said a recent post on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service. “Try to learn from the tricks of those pro-Hong Kong independence activists. If you push me I will fall over. Fake tumble, cry and wail, call campus police. We are too strong, which won’t work in the world of baizuo.”

“Baizuo” means “white left.”

To bring my post full cycle, I’ll conclude by noting that Confucius Institutes have an important role to play in sabotaging academic freedom in Australia and New Zealand.

In Australia, officials are so concerned about Chinese influence that the attorney general has asked his department to examine why 14 Confucius Institutes — Chinese-funded education units within Australian universities — have not been registered as agents of foreign influence under a new law directed at Chinese espionage, influence and propaganda.

At the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, a Confucius Institute shares a building with the office of Anne-Marie Brady, a professor who has researched Chinese government influence. Brady has complained of threats, break-ins at her home and attempted sabotage of her car. Police investigated but were unable to identify a culprit.

Academic freedom is under serious assault in the U.S., too. China is playing a role, but not yet a leading one.

Unless we push back strongly against Confucius Institutes and related efforts at Chinese penetration of academia, Red China’s role in the assault will become larger and larger. That’s the lesson to be learned from Australia and New Zealand.

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