Chinese-government backed Confucius Institutes should be booted off campuses, research and advocacy group Human Rights Watch says in a report, warning of censorship and intimidation.
The Conservative Party has long called for a royal commission to be held into Chinese Communist Party influence in Australia.
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The Advertiser reports, the University of Adelaide hosts the state’s only Confucius Institute, which pays around a quarter of a million dollars to be there, but says its institute is “different”.
Chinese Communist Party agency Hanban funds the institutes, which have been accused of channeling propaganda and spying on Chinese international students.
HRW on Friday released China: Government Threats to Academic Freedom Abroad and has now proposed a Code of Conduct to protect academic freedom.
The 12 points include urging universities to publicly support academic freedom, to track instances of harassment, surveillance or threats, to monitor Chinese government-linked organisations, and to reject Confucius Institutes.
Universities should “refrain from having Confucius Institutes on campuses, as they are fundamentally incompatible with a robust commitment to academic freedom”, HRW wrote, adding that they are “extensions of the Chinese government”.
The advocacy group interviewed students, academics and administrators from Australia, Canada, France, the United Kingdom and the United States and found that the Party was undermining academic freedom in a range of ways as well as through the institutes.
“(Students) from China have described threats to their families in China in response to what those students had said in the classroom,” it found.
“Scholars from China detailed being directly threatened outside the country by Chinese officials to refrain from criticising the Chinese government in classroom lectures or other talks.
“Others described students from China remaining silent in their classrooms, fearful that their speech was being monitored and reported to Chinese authorities by other students from China.”
There has been ongoing disquiet about the institutes and Chinese influence in general, with intelligence agencies and senior politicians from major parties warning about the threat to freedom of speech. The stated role of Confucius Institutes is to promote Chinese language and culture — however, a senior Party member has openly declared them “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up”.
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