One of Australia’s biggest universities is urging students and academic staff to report any “foreign government interference” witnessed on campus. Human rights activists have said that pro-China groups have intimidated students critical of the Chinese Communist Party.
The University of New South Wales in Sydney has warned that “foreign interference can… take the form of harassing, intimidating or threatening behavior directed at students and staff on behalf of a foreign government.”
The university said that “this kind of activity threatens academic freedom and freedom of speech.”
Staff and students were sent an email in June and July warning of the dangers of foreign interference on campus.
In June 2021, a report by Human Rights Watch Australia asserted that the “Chinese government maintains surveillance of Chinese mainland and Hong Kong students in Australian universities… who experience direct harassment and intimidation from Chinese classmates.”
In reaction to that 2021 report, the Chinese Embassy in Canberra rejected the HRW’s assertions, calling them “biased.”
Daniela Gavshon, director of Human Rights Watch Australia, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that such behavior is continuing.
“Professors and academics say their pro-China students are not necessarily directed or led by an external force, but, you know, they have their own personal motivation of loyalty to the state and when they believe there has been an affront to China or the system, they feel compelled to defend their country. So, then they will do things like intimidate, threaten, dox the addresses of other students. So, you know expose the addresses and really sort of engage in threatening behavior,” she said.
The Chinese Embassy in Canberra did not respond to a VOA request for comment on the university’s concerns.
In addition to accusing China of intimidation on campus, activists have also accused Iran and Rwanda of “transnational coercion” in Australia.
So far, there has been no public response from these governments regarding the allegations.
In April, Australia’s Department of Defense warned overseas students posed a potential security risk, exposing university campuses to foreign interference.
In 2019, the former conservative government in Canberra warned that China could be exerting too much influence at its universities.
Students demonstrating in support of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong said they had been put under surveillance by individuals loyal to Beijing.
The University Foreign Interference Taskforce was set up in Australia in November 2019, which later released guidelines to help stop meddling in class.
At the time, some academics argued the debate over Beijing’s alleged influence over Australian universities had been overrun by “anti-China hysteria.”