'Fabricating lies': China responds to surveillance claims at Australian unis

·Associate News Editor
·3-min read

Chinese state media have lashed out at damning claims Beijing is surveilling and harassing students and academics at Australian universities.

Tabloid the Global Times, a renowned mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China, slammed a report released by the non-government organisation Human Rights Watch that claimed Beijing had ramped up its intimidation of pro-democracy supporters and those critical of China connected to Australia's tertiary education system.

Among the accusations published were pro-Beijing students plastering students' profiles across Chinese social media, threatening them in person and online, and acting as informants for the CPC.

One Chinese student who was interviewed as part of the report claimed their parents were summoned by police in China and issued an official warning over their Twitter account they'd set up since arriving in Australia.

"They told me to ‘shut the f*** up’ and that I will pay a very heavy price if I come back home. They said I must shut down my Twitter, stop spreading anti-government messages and if I don’t cooperate, they may charge me with a crime," he revealed.

Two students stand in the University of Sydney's quad.
The Global Times refutes claims China is surveilling and intimidating students at Australian universities. Source: Getty

Human Rights Watch said it had verified three such instances.

One academic interviewed said they were asked to teach Chinese students a "sanitised" version of a Chinese Studies unit after university officials discovered concern online in China over their teaching of sensitive topics.

Another said they believed the CPC had installed malware on their work computer.

Claims 'created out of thin air', Global Times says

Yet the nationalistic Global Times refuted such claims of intimidation and manipulation, insisting claims from close to 50 students and academics were "created out of thin air".

"Human Rights Watch is notorious for fabricating hackneyed rumours and lies... it is no exception this time."

Referencing comments from Chen Hong – a professor and director of the Australian Studies Center, East China Normal University – the publication said it was in fact the large majority of Chinese students in Australia that had fallen victim of "anti-China hysteria", many fearing to express their alignment with their nation over fears of racial discrimination or attacks.

"Many students from the mainland have to keep silent on sensitive issues on Xinjiang or Hong Kong," reporter Yu Ning said in the editorial.

In March a survey from the Lowy Institute revealed one in five Chinese-Australians say they have been physically threatened or attacked in the past year because of the Covid-19 pandemic and tensions in Australia’s relationship with China. It prompted China's foreign ministry to call on Australia to recognise it has a racism problem.

Beijing has repeatedly condemned a rise in racist attacks against Chinese nationals, and last year warned students to think twice about heading to Australia for studies.

Chinese students who support the CPC are the real victims, says the Global Times. Source: AAP, file.
Chinese students who support the CPC are the real victims, says the Global Times. Source: AAP, file.

Claims report an attempt to fuel anti-China movement

The Global Times editorial accused the Human Rights Watch of fuelling discrimination towards Chinese people.

"Human Rights Watch, with its twisted and misinformed report, is attempting to fan the misconception about China and further stir up anti-China waves on Australian campuses," it said.

Human Rights Watch called on universities, which are heavily dependent on Chinese students financially, to do more to stand up to such behaviour from Beijing and protect staff and students.

However report author Sophie McNeill said she feared universities would not heed warnings due to their fear of damaging relations with the Chinese government.

The Global Times warned if Australia allowed for anti-China sentiment to "further brew" in its universities, it would "bear the bitter consequences" of a vast reduction of Chinese students.

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