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Clive Hamilton slams ‘useful idiots’ of Chinese influence on campus

The Beijing-based Confucius Institute operates 13 cultural and language institutes at Australian universities.

Its critics say the organisation operates as a platform for propaganda and inappropriate influence, including censorship of sensitive political issues.

The University of Queensland Greens signed a statement drafted by Socialist Alternative in the lead-up to the July 31 protest, saying that “we are concerned that this demonstration will further entrench nationalist divisions both amongst Australian and Chinese students”.

Students hold placards demanding transparency from the University of Queensland.

Students hold placards demanding transparency from the University of Queensland. Credit:AAP

“We believe the campaigns around Australia led by domestic students not from oppressed backgrounds against the Confucius Institutes are hyperbolic, racist beat-ups, sowing fear and suspicion towards ordinary Chinese students and workers,” the statement said.

“Australian students are not ‘under threat’ from Chinese influence.”

Professor Hamilton described the Greens and Socialist Alternative statement as “bizarre” and reflecting “a real paucity of analysis”.

“It is a kind of identity politics on steroids,” he said.

“It’s, ‘I’m more anti-racist than you are, I’m so anti-racist I’m going to defend a communist party organisation on campus because it’s Chinese and I’m appalled at Australia’s history of anti-China racism.’ “

The University of Queensland Greens later distanced themselves from the statement, with secretary Sean Sparks telling The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on Thursday, nine days after the event, that the group’s position “may have shifted”.

University of Queensland Socialist Alternative president Priya De, who drafted the statement, stood by it.

“Australian students have absolutely nothing to fear from the Chinese Communist Party,” she said.

Hundreds of students protested against funding agreements between Australian universities and the Confucius Institute.

Hundreds of students protested against funding agreements between Australian universities and the Confucius Institute. Credit:AAP

Drew Pavlou, who organised the protest, said left-wing opponents stood on the sidelines filming protesters, a tactic used by the Chinese government.

Hong Kong and mainland Chinese students at the University of Queensland clashed at a related protest against China’s controversial extradition laws last month, and the campus is the site of ongoing tensions.

The university was forced to increase overnight security after a pro-democracy ”Lennon wall” set up by Hong Kong students was repeatedly vandalised by masked men.

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An Australian Greens spokesman said in a statement that the university’s Greens opposed third-party influence, including through the Confucius Institute, and “absolutely support the rights of all students to protest”.

The spokesman said the party was “deeply concerned about reports of violent racial incidents” at the University of Queensland, adding that the “escalating political pressure within Hong Kong is of great concern for us all, and people should be free to express their opinions on campus”.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton would not say whether he had ordered any investigation into events surrounding the University of Queensland protest – including whether any students involved in the campus dispute had acted at the behest of the Chinese Community Party – referring questions to his department.

A spokesman for the Department of Home Affairs said the government would “not comment on specific cases due to security and operational requirements”.

A University of Queensland spokeswoman said foreign interference laws were “front of mind” in the university’s negotiations for a new contract with the Confucius Institute, after its previous agreement, which gave Beijing explicit authority over the centre’s curriculum, expired in April.

Professor Hamilton, former head of the Australia Institute and a professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, will give a talk about Chinese influence at the University of Queensland on August 28.

His controversial book, Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia, was published in February 2018.

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