Senator for South Australia Cory Bernardi has expressed deep concern after reports in The Epoch Times and The Australian exposed Victoria University’s conflicting statements about why they abruptly cancelled a screening of a documentary exposé of China’s state-run Confucius Institutes.
“I’m concerned about our national security, our economic security, and the influence that the Chinese Communist Party is having in our country … and not only with Confucius Institutes,” Senator Bernardi wrote in an email to The Epoch Times on Sept. 24.
Bernadi’s comments come on the heels of VU’s pulling the plug on “In the Name of Confucius,” a multi award-winning documentary that delves deep into the Confucius Institute’s (CI’s) controversial culture and language programs offered at universities around the world.
CIs have been widely criticized as being part of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) soft-power strategy. According to the NSW Department of Education, its universities have been paid $150,000 in establishment funds for each Confucius Institute. The money comes from Communist China’s Office of Chinese Languages Council International, usually called Hanban, which falls under its Ministry of Education. Hanban also typically pays and houses each of the teachers, and is known to offer the odd financial incentive, like its $4 million gift to Stanford University.
At the time of VU’s cancellation, its Director of Facilities called event organizer Leigh Smith to say, “We’ll refund your money” relays Smith. “It’s double booked, it was a mistake.”
After The Epoch Times provided evidence of VU’s empty theaters on the evening of the intended screening, the University changed their story.
An unnamed spokesperson attempted to label the event “a marketing stunt,” citing VU’s CI being in the same building as to where the screening had been booked.
Speaking to The Australian, Smith, who has held more than a dozen events at VU, said: “I knew Victoria University had a Confucius Institute, but I didn’t know it was in that building … this is the first time I’ve ever heard they thought it was a stunt.”
Although the booking was scheduled for the evening of Sept. 21—the last day of term—the spokesperson expressed concern over “potential for disruption to our facilities” as another reason. The university did not explain further what kind of disruption they were worried about.
“What happened at Victoria University is clearly odd,” Paul Monk, former head of China analysis at the Australia’s Defence Intelligence Organisation, wrote in The Australian.
“Whether the facilities’ administrators acted on their own initiative, in order to avoid a problem with the Chinese consulate, or following communication with consulate or Confucius Institute staff, is unclear. But it hardly matters. A documentary film about events in Canada was pushed off the university’s campus on trumped-up grounds and had to be screened elsewhere.”
Uni Puts Beijing Before Academic Freedom
Professor Clive Hamilton, who teaches Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, told The Epoch Times: “Victoria University’s cancellation demonstrates that keeping Beijing happy is more important to the university’s leaders than academic freedom.”
“It’s a worrying, even sinister, example of how the presence of a Confucius Institute subtly rewires the minds of university bureaucrats so that they are willing to dump overboard the founding principles of the Western university.
“The Australian government should withhold funding from universities that do not uphold the principle of academic freedom.”
David Matas, an international human rights lawyer, was scheduled to speak as a panelist on the post-screening Q&A session.
On VU’s cancellation, he said, “This event is about the political influence of the Communist Party on these institutions through the Confucius Institute, and this cancellation was a demonstration of the very point that we’re trying to make through this event.”
Victoria University has avoided acknowledging issuing a dishonest statement to the event organizer, nor have they issued an apology. The University has also failed to respond to emails from The Epoch Times asking for an explanation for their changing rhetoric.
“In the Name of Confucius” is set to re-screen at Scots’ Church Assembly Hall at 7 p.m. on Oct. 24 due to popular demand.