The University of Queensland is under fire again for its ties to the Chinese Communist Party. Picture: Supplied
The University of Queensland is under fire again for its ties to the Chinese Communist Party. Picture: Supplied

Aussie uni’s pro-China class slammed

An Australian university is teaching an economics class that was funded by a controversial Beijing-controlled agency, the contents of which have been described as Communist Party "propaganda".

The University of Queensland is under fire after lesson materials from its Understanding China undergraduate course were leaked, raising questions about foreign interference and educational independence at the public tertiary institution.

It's the latest in a number of scandals arising from UQ's close ties with Beijing, which have prompted calls for a Royal Commission.

Among topics canvassed in the ECON3820 course are the "terrorist" activities of the Uighur minority, whose persecution by Beijing has been described as ethnic cleansing.

Another discussion was devoted to whether pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong amount to terrorism.

Liberal MP Tim Wilson, who is an ardent supporter of Hong Kong autonomy, expressed concern about the course content.

"(It's) disturbing if the only way these (topics) are presented is from the CCP perspective," Mr Wilson told news.com.au.

Professor Clive Hamilton, a China expert at Charles Sturt University and author of the book Silent Invasion, said the involvement of the Confucius Institute in the course was "a scandal".

The University of Queensland's 'Understanding China' course is under fire.
The University of Queensland's 'Understanding China' course is under fire.

 

The University of Queensland's 'Understanding China' course is under fire.
The University of Queensland's 'Understanding China' course is under fire.

 

While operating as a vehicle for sharing culture, language and history, Confucius Institutes have been accused of seeking to carry out more sinister motives in foreign countries.

"No university course should be taught by a Confucius Institute because the institutes are an essential part of the CCP's propaganda setup, as party officials have admitted," Prof Hamilton said. "It's fundamentally at odds with what a Western university should stand for.

"But UQ finds it acceptable that courses taught on campus should be developed in Beijing and be used to promote CCP propaganda. It's a scandal.

"It shows that the top executives of UQ have been groomed by the CCP to believe that their job is to keep Beijing happy."

A spokesperson for the university said the material leaked online was "taken out of context".

"The lecture Chinese Counter-terrorism Law, delivered as part of the Understanding China course, was designed to debate the Chinese Government's approach to terrorism," the spokesperson said.

"The extract of the 80-minute lecture shared on social media is taken out of context. It would be unfair to form an opinion about lecture content without studying the course."

 

QUESTIONABLE COURSE CONTENT

Lessons in the "economics" course have focused on "terrorism in China", describing the Xinjiang region, where the persecution of the Uighur minority is widespread, as a "long-existing problem relevant to the stability of … domestic politics".

According to the slide, Uighurs are "overrepresented in terrorist incidents" and the majority are "connected with overseas extremist groups" like Islamic State.

There's no evidence that Uighurs are overrepresented in terrorism activity, nor have significant links to IS. For several years, they have endured what international groups have compared to ethnic cleansing at the hands of the CCP regime.

The University of Queensland runs an economics class that has been described as Chinese Communist Party propaganda. Picture: Supplied
The University of Queensland runs an economics class that has been described as Chinese Communist Party propaganda. Picture: Supplied

The UQ spokesperson said: "It would be unfair to form an opinion about lecture content without studying the course."

Louise Chappell, director of the Australian Human Rights Institute and a law professor at UNSW, said leaked CCP documents in 2019 exposed in "chilling detail" the country's extreme persecution.

"The size of your beard, where you travel and whether you use the back door of the house are all potentially indicators of 'terrorism' that can send you to the camps with no legal process at all," Prof Chappell said.

An estimated 1.5 million Uighurs are held in 're-education facilities' that are on par with concentration camps.

An independent tribunal convened in London last year exposed the industrial-scale organ harvesting of Uighur prisoners, including on live prisoners, for a black market trade worth $1 billion.

Various investigations have revealed the brutality inside camps, from the forced sterilisation of women to barbaric medical experiments and brutal abuse and torture.

Beijing's long-running insistence that the camps are "vocational training centres" has been universally debunked, including with the leaking of those internal CCP documents, Prof Chappell said.

The cache of material also revealed that President Xi Jinping himself designed the campaign to target Uighurs.

 

The UQ course poses the question whether pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong are terrorism. Picture: Getty Images
The UQ course poses the question whether pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong are terrorism. Picture: Getty Images

"More than two dozen countries joined two United Nations statements in Geneva and New York urging China to end this arbitrary detention of Muslims," she said.

"In response, China organised several dozen countries, including notorious rights abusers such as Russia, Egypt, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, to join statements commending China for its counter-terrorism efforts."

Another leaked slide from the course features a photo of Hong Kong protesters clashing with police beneath the question: "Is this terrorism?"

Hong Kong has existed under China's "one country, two systems" approach for decades but under the rule of President Xi, freedoms have been slowly eroding for some time.

When protests broke out 18 months ago over a proposed extradition law that would send dissidents to mainland China for trial, the CCP fast-tracked its efforts to seize greater control.

This week, a national security law was unanimously endorsed by Beijing that would make criticising the CCP and President Xi a criminal offence.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan was approached for comment for this story.

 

'SHUT IT DOWN'

Understanding China has operated at UQ for several years and it was revealed in 2019 that the class was directly funded by the Confucius Institute.

While the course "did receive seed funding" when it was established, the UQ spokesperson insisted the Confucius Institute played no role in developing the content.

"Course approval is subject to assessment against UQ's values, academic standards and priorities.

"The University stated last year that there would be no further Confucius Institute funding to credit-bearing courses."

The New South Wales Department of Education last year instituted a ban on Confucius Institutes operating in public schools, citing concerns about foreign influence and saying "appointees of a one-party state that exercised censorship … working in a government department" was inappropriate.

Prof Hamilton said that decision should've signalled the end of Confucius Institutes in Australia altogether.

"Across the United States, universities are shutting down their Confucius Institutes because they see them as part of Beijing's propaganda outreach," he said.

"We should be doing the same in Australia. As in the United States, the Australian government should tell the universities that hosting a Confucius Institute will jeopardise their funding."

 

UQ Vice Chancellor Peter Hoj was a senior consultant to Hanban International, the Beijing agency which oversees Confucius Institutes, for several years. Picture: AAP
UQ Vice Chancellor Peter Hoj was a senior consultant to Hanban International, the Beijing agency which oversees Confucius Institutes, for several years. Picture: AAP

 

Startling analysis from the Strategic Policy Institute last month about the extent of Chinese interference in Australian politics, business and society raised the issue of the institutes.

It described them as being a vehicle of the shadowy United Front agency, which has been accused of running espionage activities including political infiltration and the theft of state secrets and intellectual property.

Late last year, UQ extended its relationship with the Confucius Institute, signing a new five-year contract for its operation on campus.

The university's Vice Chancellor Peter Hoj has long been involved with Hanban International, the CCP department that runs Confucius Institutes, and served as a senior consultant.

Mr Hoj has been the subject of criticism for his close ties with Beijing, but has denied any wrongdoing or improper conduct.

Dr Xu Jie, the Consul-General of the People's Republic of China in Brisbane, was made an honorary professor at UQ last year.

Originally published as Aussie uni's pro-China class slammed



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