Conservative Party leader Cory Bernardi has expressed deep concern at conflicting statements from Victoria University (VU) about why it abruptly cancelled a screening of a documentary exposé of China’s state-run Confucius Institutes.
“I’m concerned about our economic security, our national security, and the influence that the Chinese Communist Party is having in our country,” Senator Bernardi said.
Senator Bernardi’s comments come in the wake of the university 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, including many in Australia.
The Epoch Times reports, 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, including its $4 million gift to America's 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 theatres on the evening of the intended screening, the University changed their story.
An unnamed spokesperson attempted to label the event “a marketing stunt,” citing that the VU’s CI was the same building as 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.
Professor Clive Hamilton, who teaches Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, drew a linkage between the university’s cancellation of the documentary and potential Chinese manipulation behind the scenes.
“Victoria University’s cancellation demonstrates that keeping Beijing happy is more important to the university’s leaders than academic freedom,” Hamilton told The Epoch Times.
“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.”
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