This morning University of Queensland Vice Chancellor Peter Høj AC published a PR web page intended to address growing concerns over links between Chinese Communist Party (CCP) backed ‘Confucius Institutes’ and the University.
The timing was perfect, as there was follow-up protest planned for the same day by UQ student collective ‘T4UQ’. Transparency 4 UQ has demanded transparency and accountability from the University regarding its disclosure of ties to China. While the web page published by UQ today seems to address the concerns, there are still many remaining questions.
After peaceful pro-democracy protests in support of Hong Kong were turned violent by CCP-backed students last week, UQ top brass were put in a difficult position. With a foreign student population of 30% – many of whom are from the Chinese mainland – there was seemingly no easy out for Vice-Chancellor Peter Høj who was nowhere to be seen today.
Last week pro CCP/CPC students attacked a peaceful sit-in of students protesting against the hugely unpopular extradition bill, which would see political dissidents extradited to mainland China for prosecution. Opponents of the bill say is a threat to the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ policy which has long been a cornerstone of Hong Kong’s independence following the handover from the Commonwealth in 1997.
The UQ branch of the Socialist Alternative labelled the protest the “largest open air rally of the right ever in the history of this campus” and criticized Andrew Bartlett for providing “Liberal left cover” for what they labelled an “appalling display” of “nationalistic, anti-Chinese sentiment” and a “dark day for UQ”
In response to this statement a protest organizer had this to say:
That is an absolutely sick lie. POC were at the very forefront of the protest. Tibetan Australians led chants and spoke out against CCP oppression, Falun Gong practitioners attended in droves and Hong Kong students attended and spoke bravely against intimidation. Socialist Alternative UQ are ignoring the voices of leftist POC that disagree with them because it does not suit the narrative they cooked up in their own deluded minds that this was a right wing protest. – Protest Organizer
The People’s Repubic of China’s (PRC) Office of Chinese Language Council International (also known as Hanban) has been seeking to extend the influence of CCP thought and perspective at rate that has alarmed and overwhelmed five eyes intelligence services.
It has been revealed that UQ Vice-Chancellor Peter Høj AC was an unpaid consultant on Hanban’s international committee from 12 November 2013 until his resignation late last year. In a UQ newsletter from 2013 Professor Hoj wrote
For decades, UQ people have built and maintained relationships with people from China and the Chinese diaspora, and have forged highly-productive collaborations in research, education and business.
Today we have many exceptional China-born, China-based and China-literate staff, students and alumni, and a very dynamic Confucius Institute.
I hope to do justice to the work of all these people and use my appointment to help enhance the global benefits flowing from Hanban’s activities – UQ Vice-Chancellor Peter Høj AC
Adding to the controversy and accusations of corruption is the fact that the Dr Xu Jie, Consulate-General of the PRC in Brisbane was nominated for an Honourary Adjunct Professorship. Last week Dr Xu described the violent actions of mainland Chinese students as ‘spontaneous patriotic action’ in what was taken to be tacit support for violent suppression of Chinese dominance.
Today the administration attempted to kettle the protest off of the Great Court to a ‘designated protest area’, explaining “We want to provide assurance that safety on campus is our number one priority. We expect that our students and staff are able go about their usual activities, without disruption.”
But what exactly are the Confucius Institutes (CI’s) about? Well, your response will depend on who you ask. CI’s are educational outreach organizations that operate under the strict guidance of The PRC’s Office of Chinese Language Council International (Hanban).
Confucius Institutes offer courses on Mandarin Chinese as well as a cultural curriculum. Internal recruitment documentation lists requirements for applicants that include “good political quality” and “love of the motherland”. This means that teachers must conform to the political values of the Chinese Communist Party.
Confucius Institutes are attractive to cash-strapped schools and Universities as they offer courses at discount prices, the trade-off is that the content is carefully crafted in order to portray the CCP in a positive light and undermine the influence of detractors such as supporters of Taiwanese independence.
Australia is indeed a front-runner when it comes to its engagement with China. With its 14 Confucius Institutes and 67 classrooms nationwide, Australia has the third highest number trailing only behind the UK and USA.
According to UQ CI’s are a ‘Gateway to Chinese language and culture” with the aim of promoting the “learning of Chinese language and culture, and a broader understanding of China both at UQ and in the community”.
CI’s indeed act as a gateway, but not just for cross-cultural understanding and language courses. According to Communist Party of China (CPC) politburo member Li Changchun the institutes are designed to be ‘an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up’ Deputy Education Minister Hao Ping disclosed that “establishing Confucius Institutes is a strategic plan for increasing our soft power”.
In 2014 the ‘Braga Incident’ caught global attention after Xu Lin the Director-General of the Hanban and Chief Executive of the Confucius Institute HQ ordered her staff to remove pages referring to Taiwanese academic institutions from the already published program for the European Association for Chinese Studies in Braga Portugal. Her staff then tore 4 select pages out of the programs as the materials were “contrary to Chinese regulations”. This incident illuminated the need for greater scrutiny of the objectives of the Confucius Institute model globally.
The increasingly close ties between Hanban and Australian universities has triggered ‘China Panic’, a term coined by former NSW Premier Bob Carr who very helpfully instructed prospective Australian home buyers incensed and concerned by the increasing number of Chinese nationals buying real estate in Australia to “get over it”.
The threat posed by this ‘China Panic’ has caused some internal debate in the Chinese-Australian community which numbers 1.2 million people. Jackson Kwok in a China Matters paper ‘Is there a problem with Confucius Institutes in Australia’ concluded with a number of recommendations that included the introduction of independent working groups which would include Australian-born Chinese-Australian experts with no ties to the CPC. These working groups would assess whether the Universities concerned did not have their unilateral control of academic matters challenged by the partnerships. The Chinese Community Council of Australia (CCCA) hope that this will help to alleviate Sinophobic suspicions from Australians.
While the increasing influence of China brings with it opportunities for development, investment, business and trade deals, is Australia in over its head resisting the temptation of Chinese money? Is it worth the loss of independence and freedom of expression that we have come to cherish? This is a developing issue with much of the story left untold.