Australia’s diplomats are speaking out about the influence in Australia of the Chinese regime on Chinese students, with the foreign minister recently adding her voice to a growing controversy about China’s interference in the life of the nation.
On Oct. 9, the head of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Frances Adamson, warned Australian universities that they need to “remain true” to their values and be “resilient” in the face of foreign interference.
Adamson referred to attempts to silence those critical of China, saying “silencing of anyone in our society—from students to lecturers to politicians—is an affront to our values.”
Adamson specifically named China as the country where a lot of students have been educated to “not say things that offend,” and she said that this is in conflict with the core values of Australia, which see “being frank as proof of genuine friendship.”
The widely-reported remark, which was delivered pointedly during a speech at the University of Adelaide’s Confucius Institute, has been seen as a direct response to the rising concern in Australia over the Chinese regime’s growing influence in the country. Confucius Institutes have been widely criticized as initiatives funded by the Chinese regime to improperly spread its influence in universities outside China.
A series of high profile investigative reports by Australian media in recent months have revealed the significant extent of the Chinese Communist Party’s control and influence over Australia’s political institutions, businesses, academia, and the Chinese students studying there. Among Australia’s intelligence and diplomatic services, a growing consensus is emerging that the Chinese regime has a clear plan to manipulate the Chinese students studying in the country, according to Australian media reports.
The Chinese regime attempts to exert control over the thoughts of the Chinese students when they study abroad, and Australian media reports have documented many such efforts. They have described the regime directly controlling the various Chinese student associations, threatening Chinese dissidents in Australia, meddling in academic affairs of universities, and buying out most of the Chinese-language media in the country.
On Oct. 16, a week after Adamson’s strong remarks, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said at a press conference, “We don’t want to see freedom of speech curbed in any way involving foreign students or foreign academics.”
“[Australia] prides itself on its values of openness and upholding freedom of speech,” Bishop said. “Australia is an open liberal democracy. We welcome students and visitors to our shores but people come to Australia because of our values, openness, and freedom so we want to ensure everybody has the advantage of expressing their views whether they are at university or whether they are visitors.”
Chinese students account for 29 percent of all the 564,869 international students studying in Australia, according to a July 2017 statistics by Australia’s Department of Education and Training. In a country with a population of 24 million, the large number of Chinese students enrolled in Australian universities and other educational institutions have fueled a growing concern that the Chinese regime would manipulate them to further its own agendas.
The regime can do so, in part, through the Chinese Students and Scholars Associations (CSSA). These organizations are supported by the Chinese regime and used to control and spy on Chinese students and scholars outside China. Chen Yonglin, a former Chinese diplomat who defected to Australia in 2005, has repeatedly named CSSAs worldwide—including those in Australian universities—as an instrument of espionage and propaganda used by the Chinese regime to control Chinese students who study abroad.