China Influences Higher Education and Research in Netherlands: Think Tank

July 6, 2020 Updated: July 12, 2020

The Chinese regime is exerting political influence in Dutch universities and research institutions, a think tank report has warned.

The report, published by the Clingendael Institute, a leading Dutch think tank on international affairs based in The Hague, concluded that “there is political influence by China in higher education and science in the Netherlands.”

After speaking to over 100 researchers, students, and policymakers in the Netherlands, the authors, Ingrid d’Hooghe and Brigitte Dekker, found that Chinese political influence mainly takes the forms of indirect encouragement to self-censor and the obstruction of independent investigation.

“Most researchers, university policymakers, students, and staff or directors of academic publishers working with or in China admit to being engaged in some form of self-censorship,” the report stated. “This concerns not only self-imposed restrictions on freedom of expression, but also on the choice of subjects for research.”

Researchers studying “sensitive topics” such as Uighurs or labor rights, face barriers and find important information inaccessible, d’Hooghe said in an interview with NRC Handelsblad, a leading Dutch newspaper.

“China would like certain discussions, for example about human rights, not to take place,” she said.

Police patrolling as Muslims leave the Id Kah Mosque after the morning prayer on Eid al-Fitr in Kashgar, Xinjiang, China, on June 26, 2017. (Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)

Beijing also allegedly uses Chinese students in the Netherlands to exert influence on other Chinese students, keeping them firmly in line and spreading the regime’s message, d’Hooghe said.

The Chinese regime’s influence operations have affected academic freedom, freedom of expression, the integrity of scientific cooperation, and administrative decision-making in knowledge institutions in the Netherlands, the report stated.

As Dutch researchers avoid sensitive themes or hold back on publishing certain results, the quality of Dutch research on China and knowledge about the country is compromised, d’Hooghe said.

In recent years, Chinese influence operations have become a focus of public attention in the Netherlands. In particular, the widening educational collaboration with China has led to concerns about financial dependence on China, undesirable knowledge transfer, espionage, and political influence.

The report by the Clingendael Institute urges the Dutch government to respond to the situation by actively combating censorship and self-censorship, as well as raising awareness of the risks of political influence in academic cooperation with China.