Ignominious big unis kowtow to Beijing

Democracy and free speech? Phewy! Chinese money, yes! Via the AFR:

A delegation of vice-chancellors from Australia’s leading universities has told senior officials in Beijing that their campuses are the safest in the world for Chinese students as they seek to ensure diplomatic tensions between the two countries do not spill over into the education sector.

…Group of Eight chairman Ian Jacobs said there was no sign that the education relationship had soured in his meetings with representatives from universities and government officials in China but the delegation was using the opportunity to address concerns about student safety.

“Our message is we value our students from China enormously. We are also emphasising that Australia is just about the safest place in the world for international students to come and study,” Professor Jacobs, who is vice-chancellor of the University of NSW, told The Australian Financial Review in China.

This is obviously a response to the recent saber-rattling by Beijing:

China’s Foreign Ministry issued the travel advice on a social media account ahead of the current long weekend in China, which is a popular time for families to travel overseas. In a series of posts over several days, it issued security warnings for Australia, the US, South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, South Africa, Congo, Thailand, Egypt and East Timor.

The inclusion of Australia and the US on the list suggests the postings could be politically motivated; Beijing has previously used warnings about student safety in countries like Australia as a subtle way to exert pressure on the government via the education sector…However, the advice on Australia posted on the Consular Affairs bureau’s WeChat account did not specify what the security concerns were.

The travel advice on Australia was posted on April 28. It highlighted a seminar held with travel agencies at China’s Consulate in Melbourne last week. The post said Chinese travel agents were briefed on security “incidents” involving Chinese citizens in Australia.

Previously via John Fitzgerald at the AFR:

In February, the central Ministry of Education issued an almost identical message under the ominous title “2018 Warning No. 1 for Study Abroad”. Ostensibly, the target audience was students. “All Chinese students studying abroad in Australia should be vigilant, strengthen risk prevention, and pay attention to their personal protection”, it warned.

In both cases, the target audience was not students in Australia but parents in China. The warnings were designed to alarm parents and in turn frighten Australian educators, who are keen to win parents’ custom, to the point of pressuring the Australian government to back down on issues that had nothing to do with education.

And in January, China’s consular officials in Melbourne began reaching out to local contacts complaining they were being overwhelmed with inquiries from concerned parents in China seeking reassurance that their children were safe after hearing reports of physical attacks and racial abuse. One contact told me the consulate urged her to convey the parents’ messages of concern to Australian authorities. The intent appears to have been to prompt the government to suppress “anti-Chinese racism” in Australia, with the implied threat that students would stop coming if the government did not change its tune.

We know that this is a response to the Australian debate about Chinese influence in the political process. There were no attacks on Chinese to justify the warnings. We may already be seeing the leading edge of the impact with a sudden downturn in short term Chinese arrivals in January:

Pretty ignominious stuff. China endeavors to corrupt Australian democratic process and our leading intellectual institutions fly to Beijing and apologise for it.

The universities would be far better off seeking to diversify their business models away from the Chinese tit. The tensions will only get worse over time.

David Llewellyn-Smith

David Llewellyn-Smith is Chief Strategist at the MB Fund and MB Super. David is the founding publisher and editor of MacroBusiness and was the founding publisher and global economy editor of The Diplomat, the Asia Pacific’s leading geo-politics and economics portal.

He is also a former gold trader and economic commentator at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, the ABC and Business Spectator. He is the co-author of The Great Crash of 2008 with Ross Garnaut and was the editor of the second Garnaut Climate Change Review.

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