The Chinese consulate-general has entered a dispute over Taiwanese independence at the University of Newcastle, exposing the increasing influence exerted by Beijing on Australian university campuses.
The dispute, one of several involving Chinese international students at Australian universities, has seen the students receive strong support from Chinese commentators.
The university was asked whether the Chinese consulate-general, the Chinese Students and Scholars Association and Chinese-Australian news outlet Sydney Today were in contact with the university over the matter. “The University of Newcastle has engaged with a range of interested stakeholders, including students, staff and the consulate- general of the People’s Republic of China,” a university spokeswoman responded.
The consulate reportedly became involved in part because of its “one-China bottom line” and because the incident “seriously hurt the feelings of Chinese students”.
The Newcastle University Chinese Students and Scholars Association is “an association supervised by the Chinese general consulate Sydney”, according to the university’s website.
The incident at the university, where a lecturer came under fire last week for listing Taiwan and Hong Kong as separate countries, is the fourth prominent case since May where academic staff or Australian universities have been targeted and their actions or teaching material attacked on Chinese social media.
The controversy comes amid a debate over Chinese censorship spreading to Western universities, which was sparked by the Cambridge University Press Chinese censorship scandal. The university publisher decided to accept Chinese government censorship of its journal, China Quarterly — a decision it has since reversed after a wave of negative publicity.
Last week, a business lecturer at the University of Newcastle used a chart from a Transparency International report that listed Hong Kong and Taiwan as countries.
Chinese international students then covertly recorded an after- class argument with him about the chart and contacted the media.
The Australian government adheres to the “One-China policy”, which means it recognises the People’s Republic of China as the ‘‘sole legitimate government of China’’ rather than recognising Taiwan.
Taiwan operates like a separate country — with its own constitution, parliament, government, army, currency, central bank — but it is claimed by China as a province.
Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China.
Sydney Today contacted the university’s vice-chancellor Caroline McMillen and asked her to clarify the institution’s position on Hong Kong and Taiwan, and also directly contacted the lecturer.
Many Chinese commentators took the student’s side.
Liu Peng posted on the Chinese website Guancha.cn that “the A San” — or Third World person, a derogatory term used sometimes of Indians — “must apologise, and the university should do something too!”
Bishitailu, a pen-name, posted that “the lecturer is so mindless, there’s no point even in trying to talk rationally with him, just let him pay a price for what he has done.
“Doesn’t he know that having only one China is a political red line?”
A few days earlier, Chinese international students at Sydney University complained that a lecturer had used a world map showing India in control of territory that China claims.
By PRIMROSE RIORDAN and ROWAN CALLICK