Tensions in Hong Kong have rippled across Australian universities, as supporters of the pro-democracy protests have been targeted and harassed by “patriotic” Chinese students — with the tacit backing of Beijing.
Public rallies and other acts of solidarity have been staged at several campuses during the Asian financial hub’s two months of civil unrest, including the emergence of “Lennon walls” plastered with notes extolling the virtues of free speech and democracy.
That has angered some Chinese students, who have physically confronted protesters, torn down message boards and demanded that universities provide a “pure study environment” free of political messages that “insult” their homeland.
Video from a small pro-democracy rally at Monash University in Melbourne on Tuesday shows a man aggressively shouting at students and pushing someone who tried to step in, while a companion films the confrontation.
“We wear masks because we know they will take photos and put it online on their social network sites and they try to find [out] who [we] are,” said James, a 23-year-old student who witnessed the skirmish.
Several students who participated had their details published online and at least one had been the target of harassment, including anonymous telephone calls, he said.
Someone reportedly listed a pro-Hong Kong demonstrator’s home address in Melbourne on popular messaging app WeChat and discussed reporting Chinese who supported the students to authorities in Beijing for “welfare” when they return to China.
At the University of Queensland in Brisbane, a handful of hard-hatted students on Friday held a demonstration in support of friends and family back in Hong Kong.
Student activist Drew Pavlou, who has supported the campus protests, was told to “be careful” and received messages from someone who knew his name, claimed to know his whereabouts and threatened to “kill his family.”
“We’re quite afraid for our personal safety on campus and even in Brisbane or going back to Hong Kong, because we fear we might get targeted,” said Jacob Yiu, a 21-year-old protest organizer at the University of Queensland.
“Probably the Hong Kong government — even the Chinese government — know what we’ve been doing here, [and might] try to detain us, and we’re quite scared of that,” Yiu added.
Tensions have also been felt in New Zealand, with scuffles flaring at the University of Auckland.
The University of Queensland said that it was stepping up security patrols in response to the protests.
Monash University said that security were present at Tuesday’s protest, but “no action was required.”
Australia’s cash-strapped universities have struggled to respond, weighing support for free speech with the need to sustain a lucrative supply of Chinese students.
More than 181,000 Chinese are enrolled in Australian universities — by far the largest cohort of overseas students — bringing more than US$6.8 billion into the economy each year, but economic ties run much deeper.
The University of Queensland is one of 12 universities that host a Confucius Institute — a Chinese government-funded school that teaches language and culture.
In 2012, Monash University became the first Australian university to be granted a highly lucrative license to operate in China.
Both universities said that it was important to allow students to safely voice their opinions.
The Chinese government does not appear to have tried to quiet the tensions, with consulates in Auckland and Brisbane praising the “spontaneous patriotism” of pro-Beijing students.
The statement by the Brisbane consulate drew a sharp rebuke from Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne, who warned diplomats against undermining fundamental rights or “encouraging disruptive or potentially violent behavior.”
Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton said that while China is an important trading partner, foreign interference in Australia is at “an all-time high.”
“We are worried about influence on university campuses,” he said.
The Chinese Students and Scholars Association — a government-backed body — has led complaints about the pro-Hong Kong protests.
A local chapter earlier this week complained to the University of Tasmania about “discriminatory, insulting comments” posted around campus regarding Hong Kong.
“The content was malicious and defamatory, and the behaviors were extremely bad,” it said, calling on the university to “establish a clean and pure study environment for students.”
Chapters of the association have been accused by US Vice President Mike Pence of policing Chinese students as much as representing them overseas.
The organization told reporters that it respected local law and freedom of speech, but urged the university to “pay attention to this issue before it escalates.”
“We are all students, we should focus on our study,” it said.
BRIBERY CASE: President Tsai Ing-wen accepted Su Jia-chyuan’s resignation as he said that he deeply regretted causing trouble for the president due to the investigation Presidential Office Secretary-General Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全) yesterday resigned after his nephew, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Su Chen-ching (蘇震清), was implicated in a bribery case related to a dispute over the ownership of Pacific Sogo Department Store (太平洋崇光百貨). “I resigned from the post so that President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) would not be bothered by it anymore, and the prosecutors can investigate the case in a fair and just manner. I thank President Tsai once again for supporting me. May the country continue to prosper under her leadership,” Su Jia-chyuan said in a statement. The Presidential Office said that Tsai has accepted
ALEX AZAR: The first visit by a head of the Department of Health and Human Services would strictly observe the CECC’s special regulations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said US Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar is to lead a delegation to Taiwan — the highest-level visit by a US Cabinet official since the two sides cut formal relations in 1979. The plan was announced yesterday morning by the US Department of Health and Human Services and confirmed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). Beijing has expressed its concerns to Washington, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) said later yesterday. Taiwan and the US only issued statements saying that the visit would happen “in the coming days.” MOFA said that due to security concerns, it would
‘CROSS-STRAIT CONSIDERATIONS’: Groups said that the Ministry of Education’s policies excluded Chinese and students should not be blocked over political issues The Taiwan International Student Movement yesterday said it would protest today outside the Ministry of Education in Taipei against a policy that excludes some Chinese students from returning to Taiwan amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Since June 17, the ministry has allowed foreign students from 19 “low risk” and “medium-low risk” countries and regions to enter Taiwan. On July 22, it announced that it was relaxing restrictions to include students from all countries and regions who are graduating this semester and on Wednesday it further expanded entry to students enrolled in degree programs. A letter sent by the ministry on Wednesday to universities did
The military last week sent “no small number” of Marine Corps officers to the Pratas Islands (Dongsha Island, 東沙群島) following reports of a Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) drill targeting the islands scheduled for this month. In an interview with Hong Kong’s Bauhinia Magazine published on Saturday last week, PLA National Defense University professor Li Daguang (李大光) confirmed that the Chinese army was planning to stage a simulated invasion of the Pratas Islands in the South China Sea this month. The islands comprise three atolls, with Pratas Island, at 1.74km2, being the largest. They lie southwest of Taiwan proper in the South