Australian Conservatives Senator Cory Bernardi put forward two motions to federal Parliament tightly linked to strained Australian-China relations, on Aug 15.
The first motion, which was rejected, called for a review of the Department for Education and Training’s engagement with Chinese Communist Party-administered Confucius Institutes.
The successful second motion, while avoiding direct reference to China, targeted political re-education internment camps, which have become a hallmark of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) oppression.
Confucius Institute: CCP Soft-Power Influence
In the course of ostensibly delivering Chinese language and culture education, Confucius Institutes have come under scrutiny for, among other things, impinging on Australian academic freedom.
Over 1,500 Confucius Classrooms and Confucius Institutes are hosted by primary and secondary schools and universities throughout the world. Bernardi’s motion noted that Australia has the third largest number of such institutions, after the United States and the United Kingdom.
The setting up of Confucius Institutes involves forming a partnership between a Chinese university, a foreign university, and Hanban—the Office of Chinese Language Council International, which is an arm of the CCP’s Ministry of Education.
Steps have been taken by various education facilities in North America to block Confucius Institutes. The recent U.S. defense budget bill prohibits the Pentagon from funding Confucius Institute Chinese-language programs.
This comes after the CIA warned of CCP efforts to breed academic censorship in foreign universities and policy institutes by giving them funding. An unclassified page in the CIA report, obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, says, “The CCP provides ‘strings-attached’ funding to academic institutions and think tanks to deter research that casts it in a negative light.”
Canada’s McMaster University terminated its partnership with Hanban in 2013, citing its hiring practices as the reason. Hanban precludes its employees having membership in “illegal organizations such as Falun Gong”—the spiritual discipline which the CCP has heavily persecuted since 1999.
Senator Bernardi’s motion cites a review of the Confucius Institutes practices initiated by NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes.
“Obviously I have concerns,” Stokes told The Australian in June. “[Those are] concerns in relation to control of the curriculum and staffing decisions.”
Stokes called for a review after media scrutiny of interactions between Australian politicians and Chinese political donors. The coverage, indicating CCP interference in Australian politics, peaked in 2017.
Liberal and Labor Slow to Act
Bernardi suggested that there were political motivations behind the major parties’ rejection of his bid to have department of education relations with Confucius Institutes reviewed:
“We thought the motion was uncontroversial, given that the NSW government and other governments overseas are reviewing their engagement with Confucius Institutes.
“The Liberal and Labor Parties won’t disclose who their donors are until after the next election and there are serious allegations about CCP influence through donations.
“The Conservative Party has been calling out Chinese Communist Party influence in Australian politics, and the major parties have been acting far too slowly,” he added.
A Chinese-born mother with a son at a Sydney elementary school who preferred to keep her identity private, said she had concerns about her son being in a school that hosts a Confucius Classroom.
“I have already come to Australia, I don’t want to receive Chinese-style education or accept a Chinese teacher from the CCP. Then of course, I’ll worry that there will be some CCP kind of things happening in the classroom,” she told The Epoch Times in Chinese.
The mother expressed specific concerns that Confucius classrooms must comply not only with Australian law but with Chinese law too.
“How can the class comply with Chinese law? For example, if the child of a democracy activist inadvertently comments on how bad the CCP is, how is the class and the Confucius Institute teacher going to react to him?”
Political Re-education Camps
Bernardi identified the human rights violations of the CCP as the prime target of his re-education camp motion.
“Australia must never surrender our principles for trade or appeasing a Chinese Communist Party that tramples freedoms,” he told The Epoch Times.
The motion “urges the Minister for Foreign Affairs to raise with foreign governments any concerns brought to her attention about the existence of … [political re-education interment] camps.”
Re-education camps are a component of the CCP’s ethnic, religious, and political oppression apparatus.
The CCP operate an extensive network of “labour camps, detention centres, psychiatric hospitals, prisons, and black jails,” which human rights investigators David Kilgour, Ethan Gutmann, and David Matas call China’s Gulag.
In 2013, an SOS note successfully snuck out of the Masanjia Labour Camp prisoner drew international attention to the notorious compounds. This spurred the CCP to announce their closure.
However, the closure of the camps was a token gesture, according to Minghui.org, a website that monitors the persecution of Falun Gong in China. The abuses continue at other sites, or at the same sites, in some cases rebranded as rehabilitation facilities.
Bernardi’s motion focused on political re-education internment camps. In Xinjiang, Western China, the CCP has imprisoned potentially hundreds of thousands of Muslim Chinese in such camps.
“I was very pleased for the families here in Australia that my motion passed. They’re grieving over what has happened to their loved ones in Western China,” he said.
In Xinjiang, the CCP tortures citizens physically and mentally. They force them to denounce their faith, their ethnicity, and their family members. They must turn against their fellow inmates and parrot party propaganda to be given reprieve from incessant daily torment.
Kazakh Muslim, Omir Bekali, was arrested and imprisoned for 8 months. He was accused of trying to help Chinese Muslims escape China, because he had invited them to apply for Kazakh tourist visas, in his work with a tourist agency.
“The psychological pressure is enormous, when you have to criticize yourself, denounce your thinking—your own ethnic group,” Bekali said.
“I still think about it every night, until the sun rises. I can’t sleep. The thoughts are with me all the time.”
Feng Chongyi, a University of Technology Sydney Associate Professor in China Studies and repeated critic of the CCP, called political re-education internment camps instruments of mass ethnic and religious persecution.
“[It’s] a massive violation of human rights and has intensified ethnic conflicts with Muslims in Xinjiang,” he told The Epoch Times.
On a visit to China in 2017, Feng was detained and interrogated by Chinese officials for 10 days for his criticisms of the CCP.
Australian Conservatives Prompt Action
Feng said it is vital to Australia’s national integrity to hold fast to its belief in human rights, democracy, and freedom, and to be prepared to take a stand against violations by the Chinese regime.
“You cannot sell your basic value because of money,” he said.
Feng commended Bernardi and the Australian Conservative Party’s initiative in raising in Parliament the issues of the Confucius Institutes and political re-education internment camps.
Given the Parliament’s support of the internment camp motion, Bernardi said that families concerned for their loved ones, as well as anyone with evidence about the camps must now raise their concerns with the foreign minister.
He suggested they cc copy his office (email@example.com) in their emails to the foreign minister.
“If modern nations can’t expose and close these camps, we have learned nothing from past atrocities,” Bernardi said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.