Universities are the front line of China's rivalry with the West

Inkstone 發布於 2019年11月15日13:11
Pro-china protesters rally in Vancouver in August to express disapproval of the anti-government protests racking Hong Kong.

Someday, perhaps soon, Xi Jinping and Donald Trump will sign an agreement resolving the US-China trade war. But the trade dispute has exposed more fundamental cleavages between China and the community of democratic nations.

The most important clashes between China and the West concern not soybean exports nor the protection of patents, but free expression and open inquiry. Nowhere are those clashes taking place more vigorously than on university campuses.

Consider the case of Nathan Law, the Hong Kong student who became a leader in the city's 2014 "umbrella movement."

Law was jailed for his activism and barred from legislative politics, but was accepted into a graduate program at Yale University. In New Haven, 8,000 miles from home, Law began to receive death threats on social media.

One post, purportedly from a group of Chinese students in America, called for an organized campaign of harassment against him. Another threatened to dismember him. Law has had to receive special security protection " unusual for a graduate student.

Nathan Law Kwun-chung (right), now a student at Yale, has received death as a result of his role in the 2014

Hong Kong students in Melbourne rallying in support of this year's pro-democracy protests were physically assaulted by students from the mainland.

Chinese government-funded student groups have vociferously protested against appearances by the Dalai Lama on California campuses.

All this illustrates the difficulty of reconciling an authoritarian system with the robust protection of free speech " the hallmark of higher education in democratic countries.

The warning signs of Chinese influence over campus discourse have been visible for years.

University protests against the Dalai Lama date to 2008, linked to groups of students controlled and funded by Chinese embassies and consulates in the West.

Foreign Policy found several instances where the Chinese government paid students to attend events with top government officials such as Xi and Hu Jintao.

Over the past 15 years, China's Ministry of Education has established hundreds of Confucius Institutes on Western campuses, allowing colleges to outsource courses in Chinese language and culture.

The institutes are funded by the Chinese government, which controls their curricula and mandates censorship of politically sensitive issues on campus. In 2010, then-propaganda chief Liu Yunshan urged his fellow citizens to use the centers to "(c)oordinate the efforts of overseas and domestic propaganda."

The influence wielded by the Confucius Institutes is quite real: at McMaster University in Canada, a contract disclosed during a labor litigation showed that the institute forbade a teacher from practicing Falun Gong, a religious movement persecuted in China. Discussions of the group and other taboo topics in the classroom were also explicitly outlawed.

But Confucius Institutes are just one example of how Western universities have increasingly relied on Chinese money.

Confucius Institutes have become controversial on some US campuses.

From tuition dollars to research and development partnerships with institutions on the mainland, Chinese financial support is increasingly important to cash-strapped universities.

A prominent geneticist at Yale collaborated (perhaps unknowingly) with scientists in China who developed genome models meant to track and control the Muslim Uygur minority. Sources estimate that up to 1.5 million Uygurs are held in internment camps in western China, assisted by the government's collection of DNA.

Gaining political influence through the power of the purse may be deplorable, if unexceptional; wealthy Americans like the Koch brothers pioneered leveraging financial donations to control academic discourse.

But as Law and demonstrators in Australia discovered, when financial support fails to achieve political objectives, China turns to more severe methods.

A student in Australia protests funding agreements between local universities and the Chinese government in late July. China is a source of money for many universities, which sometimes creates political tension.

Physical or virtual, such threats of violence create a chilling effect on the free speech of college students, especially those deemed enemies of the Chinese state.

Colleges should devote resources to teaching Mandarin and to the research of Chinese history, politics and humanities. But university administrators should be sensitive to the strings attached to Chinese money.

They should not bend to political intimidation or shrink from protecting students and teachers under attack from foreign powers.

For centuries, our universities have led the world in the pursuit of knowledge. This cannot happen on campuses controlled by authoritarian governments.

Isaiah Schrader is a junior at Yale College and the opinion editor of Yale Daily News.

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