FPI / May 19, 2020
Analysis by Paul Crespo
While China increasingly bullies U.S. ally Australia over its recent stand advocating for an international inquiry into Beijing’s handling of the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) — another serious issue is surfacing — China’s subversive infiltration of Australia’s universities.
A University of Queensland (UQ) student who has been critical of the Australian institution’s close ties to the Chinese government is facing legal action and expulsion for his pro-Hong Kong and other student protests and activities.
The case of Drew Pavlou, a 20-year-old, fourth year philosophy student, has unmasked the dangerous influence China has gained over certain Australian educational institutions. Central to this infiltration are 13 Confucius Institutes at Australian universities funded by the Chinese government. These institutes have come under scrutiny in the U.S. and Europe as key elements of China’s “soft power” influence operations in western countries.
Many U.S. universities have shut down their Confucius Institutes amid allegations of censorship and U.S. government scrutiny. According to the Wall Street Journal — the Australian government is also investigating whether the institutes require “registration as a source of foreign influence.”
Pavlou would certainly agree. He wrote in Foreign Policy:
I am being threatened with this unprecedented move because of UQ’s particularly close relationship with the Chinese party-state; UQ enjoys perhaps the closest relationship of any university with the Chinese government in the Anglosphere. In addition to funding and controlling a Confucius Institute on campus, the Chinese government funds at least four accredited UQ courses that present a party-approved version of Chinese history to students, glossing over human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, and mainland China.
The Wall Street Journal also notes that “Pavlou has become a lightning rod in a larger debate about Chinese influence in Australia, including in higher education. Australian universities have become increasingly reliant on revenue from foreign students, many of whom are Chinese.”
Critics argue that this reliance has made them subservient to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as “administrators seek to curry favor with Beijing and attract Chinese students.”
One Australian university professor goes even further, arguing that the CCP has deliberately infiltrated these universities to turn them into tools of the Chinese state. “I think that the top levels of the university [of Queensland] have essentially been groomed by Chinese Communist Party agents over the years and they have come to believe that their first objective is to keep Beijing happy.” said Clive Hamilton, at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, in the Wall Street Journal.
Sturt authored the book “Silent Invasion” about CCP influence in Australia. “The level of contact between the two is at a minimum unseemly, and really quite improper,” he added in Wall Street Journal.
Reinforcing Sturt’s point is the fact that in addition to the CCP-backed courses Pavlou mentioned, the Chinese consul general in Brisbane, Xu Jie, serves as an honorary professor at UQ, a bizarre situation for an active CCP diplomat. Pavlou also notes in Foreign Policy that Vice Chancellor Peter Hoj is a senior consultant to Hanban, the Chinese government organization that oversees Confucius Institutes worldwide.
“Hoj received a 200,000 Australian dollar ($130,000) bonus from the university for bolstering ties with China.” said Pavlou.
On reading the entire document UQ is using in their case against Pavlou, Clive Hamilton, a noted expert on CCP influence operations in Australia, wrote to Pavlou, as quoted in Foreign Policy:
Most of the allegations are trivial; some are risible. In the context of the University’s documented discomfort with your political activism — especially your highlighting of links between the University, its Vice-Chancellor and various arms of the Chinese Communist Party — I can only read the threat of expulsion as an attempt to silence legitimate political activism on the campus.
Pavlou added in Foreign Policy, “If I am expelled, I fear the terrifying signal it would send to students across the country.” We should all be concerned with that terrifying signal and challenge this outrageous travesty and Chinese state influence over Australian universities.