There was a disquieting, if perhaps not unduly surprising, article in the Financial Times the other day. New restrictions imposed by the Xi Jinping-led Chinese Communist Party regime, new measures to assert the dominance of the party (ideology, personality or whatever), just continue the pattern of the last few years. Just recently, villagers in one province were being told to remove pictures of Jesus and replace them with pictures of Xi Jinping. Leading academic publishers have been put under pressure – some have given in to it – to remove access in China to all sorts of journal articles. There was the requirement to establish Communist Party cells even in private businesses, whether foreign or domestic-owned. There is chilling forthcoming “social credit scoring” regime to monitor and control hehaviour.
The latest article was about the new rules for foreign joint venture universities in China – of which there are now, reportedly, some 2000. Such joint ventures will, it is reported, be required to establish a Communist Party cell and – more concerningly – the party secretary in each ventures “will be given vice-chancellor status and a seat of the board of trustees”. Many of these trustee boards require unanimous votes for major decisions, including senior appointments. So much for the prospects of any sort of sustained academic freedom, and as the FT article notes even where there is explicit provision for academic freedom in joint venture agreements there is real doubt about whether those provisions will be honoured, or be effective (control the budgets, control the people, and there is a lot of incentive to just go along).
I haven’t seen the story reported in New Zealand yet, which is a little surprising given the close ties New Zealand tertiary institutions seem to have with China. I’m not sure how many others have formal joint venture arrangements, but I recalled reading quite recently about how Waikato University is now offering degrees to Chinese students without them ever leaving China and so I looked up what was going on there. Just this year, they launched a joint venture in China with Zhejiang University City College. According to the deputy vice-chancellor
it was generally difficult to get permission to run these types of programmes in China, but the university’s 15-year relationship with ZUCC paved the way.
It would be interesting (but predictable enough really) to know how Waikato University is responding to the latest Chinese government control initiative. How, for example, will they protect the academic integrity of the programmes they are running in China – when the Party gets to veto all major decisions? Perhaps the subjects that will be taught (Finance, Computer Graphic Design and Design Media) aren’t likely to be particularly politically sensitive, but the point of principle remains. And with this sort of direct Party control over a significant Waikato subsidiary, one can only assume it is even less likely than ever that the hierarchy will be comfortable if any of their staff here are speaking openly in ways that upset Beijing.
But I don’t suppose we will be hearing any concerns voiced by the Chancellor (former Prime Minister Jim Bolger) or Vice-Chancellor of Waikato, or by Universites New Zealand.
There was an interesting commentary on this specific issue on an Australian “public policy and business innovation website”. Australia’s leading universities – generally much higher ranked than New Zealand universities – appear to be much more engaged in this joint venture business than those here.
Monash University, for instance, is an institution that was at the forefont of the international student surge. It has a fully-fledged joint venture university with Southeastern University, a Graduate Management Institute in Suzhou part of the populous Yangtze River delta in middle of which sits Shanghai.
Most of the Group of Eight universities has at least one joint venture research institute, although some of these are “virtual”
As the commentary notes
The strategy reflects a broader project that was initiated under Xi several years ago to tighten state’s control over China’s already state-run universities, some of which were displaying a bit too much independent thinking for the control freaks in Beijing.
Party Committees were expanded and upgraded, and all students were made to take classes in Marxist-Leninist Theory with the usual rider of the version ‘with Chinese characteristics’.
So, in fact, Australian universities are already deeply complicit in compromised academic environments in the bewildering range of partnerships with scores of Chinese universities.
The author sees the whole thing ending badly, as it has for so many other private sector investments in China
Now the CCP has stuck an entire foot in to truly test the water to see how this could be stomached. But rest assured that further steps will have already been lined up to rollout for those who champion mammon over ethics.
The final result, and this is just a hypothesis based on the Party’s track record, will be fire sale with only one bidder.
For now, Australia’s universities are staying mum. Universities Australia offered a thoughtful and erudite contribution of “no comment.”
Doubtless the Group of 8 – and all the rest as well – are busily attending to duties in private, but at some stage they will have to say something without offending the Chinese.
It’s a classic Beijing trap: Stay silent and the West condemns you, speak up and Beijing cuts off your biggest revenue stream, Chinese students.
Or, in New Zealand, perhaps no one of note condemns you, because almost the entire establishment has simply chosen to do the kowtow. But it is a reminder that when, for examples, universities stay silent, it is about continuing to do deals with the devil – self-interest, blind (self-chosen) to the character of the people one is dealing with. Do otherwise-decent people really have no qualms about the sort of regime they deal with and which, by their silence and their trade, they make themselves complicit with?
In the same vein, I happened to notice a forthcoming half-day seminar at Victoria University on New Zealand’s relations with China, marking the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations with the PRC. It looked potentially interesting, and was free, and I wondered if I might go along. But then I had a closer look. Sure enough, the seminar is co-organised by the Confucius Institute at Victoria University – recall that these Institutes (there are hundreds around the world) are funded by the Chinese government, and subject to extensive Chinese government controls. The seminar is supported by the New Zealand China Council, New Zealand China Friendship Society and New Zealand China Trade Association, groups from whom never a critical word (about China anyway) is heard. You certainly won’t find Professor Anne-Marie Brady, or the sorts of concerns she has been raising, on the agenda, as one might reasonably expect in a forum organised by a body genuinely interested in open debate, critical scrutiny etc (eg an old-fashioned university). You might agree or disagree with her on some or all issues, but the lack of open debate in such fora should be a concern. Instead, Victoria University prostitutes itself.
Australia has its own problems in these areas, including – as noted in the commentary above – the desperate desire of universities for the money that comes from keeping quiet and getting on. But I was struck over the last few days by a contrast between the New Zealand Labour Party in Parliament, and the actions of words of an Australian federal Labor MP.
When the list of select committee memberships came out the other day, Labour’s Raymond Huo was the senior government member on the Justice select committee. This is the same Raymond Huo whose affinities with Xi Jinping Anne-Marie Brady has written up, and of whom Charles Finny – former senior diplomat and now leading lobbyist – told us recently that he was always very careful what he said in front of Huo, knowing that he was close to the Chinese Embassy.
What is the Justice select committee responsible for?
The Committee looks at business related to constitutional and electoral matters, human rights, justice, courts, crime and criminal law, police, corrections, and Crown legal services.
Huo’s place on committee – whether he chairs it, or an Opposition MP ends up doing so – doesn’t fill one with any confidence that the government might take seriously issues around foreign electoral donations, for example.
And, by contrast, there was a speech given the other day in Tokyo by Michael Danby, an Australian federal Labor MP (and member of the foreign affairs select committee), headed “China’s rise in hard strategic and political power”. There is a lot of material in the speech, and when he gets to China’s political influence operations he draws at length from Anne-Marie Brady’s work. He calls out the expansionist activities in the South China Sea – about which barely a word is ever heard in our Parliament – about the push to establish Chinese bases across the Indian Ocean, about repression of religion, restrictions in Xinjiang, attempts to control Chinese language media in other countries, the co-option of politicians and business people. Even Jian Yang gets a mention.
Sadly, it is hard to imagine any of our MPs willing or able to engage at such a level, and so openly, in dealing with the issues raised by a large aggressive repressive major power. It is true of all sides of politics, from what we observe.
Then again, Australia is the country where the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Frances Adamson, recently gave a pretty strongly-worded speech, clearly authorised by ministers, highlighting some of the risks around Chinese interference and what it means to be a free society, one with very different values from China. Meanwhile, her New Zealand counterpart sits of the board of the government-funded China Coucil, which pumps out innocuous pap (avocados to China anyone?), sponsors seminars that avoid anything controversial, and only reinforces the sense that New Zealand’s elites have sold themselves out so much that they are almost afraid of their own shadows, and of standing up at all for the sorts of values that New Zealanders – and probably many Chinese – hold, but which the Chinese government counts as anathema.