Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has issued a blunt warning to Chinese university students affiliated with the Communist Party, urging them to respect freedom of speech in Australia.
There are mounting anxieties about the way the Chinese Government uses student groups to monitor Chinese students in Australia, and to challenge academics whose views do not align with Beijing’s, reports ABC.
Australia’s security agencies are now pushing allies — including the US, the UK, Canada and New Zealand — to hammer out a collective strategy to resist Chinese Government intrusions into Western universities.
Ms Bishop said Australia welcomed international students, but added that people came to study in Australia because of its “openness and freedom”.
“This country prides itself on its values of openness and upholding freedom of speech, and if people want to come to Australia they should respect our laws,” Ms Bishop said.
Earlier this year a Four Corners investigation revealed the extent of influence by the Chinese Communist Party on international students studying in Australia.
The issue came into sharp focus earlier this month, after the head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Frances Adamson, warned Australian universities they need to be resilient to foreign interference.
The Foreign Minister backed Ms Adamson’s comments, and said freedom of speech was crucial.
“We want to ensure that everyone has the advantage of expressing their views whether they are at university or whether they are visitors,” Ms Bishop said.
“We don’t want to see freedom of speech curbed in any way involving foreign students or foreign academics.”
One of the most senior national security figures in Australia says there is now a “like mindedness and shared understanding” among Five Eyes allies of how China’s influence has penetrated universities.
And Australia’s intelligence and diplomatic organisations are increasingly concerned about the way the Chinese government uses student groups to push its agenda.
“Australia is giving China what it wants in terms of education for its students — so it’s time for the Federal Government to insist the Chinese comply with Australia’s values and interests,” one senior foreign diplomatic figure told the ABC.