Sydney University vice chancellor lashes government over 'Sinophobic blatherings'

By Andrew Clark Source:Global Times Published: 2018/2/1 16:13:40

The row over claims of Chinese students' spying in Australia has deepened, with Sydney University vice-chancellor Michael Spence accusing the Turnbull government of "Sinophobic blatherings" and warning it is damaging one of Australia's fastest growing industries.

As the head of Australia's oldest university, with a 67,000 student body and 15,000 high fee-paying overseas Chinese students, Dr Spence warned that continuation of a hostile attitude by the government could even threaten Australian iron ore and agricultural exports to China.

"Calling them spies or whatever without any evidence is just not very welcoming, and these are only kids whose families have made huge sacrifices to send them overseas and I just think we need to give them a fair go," said Dr Spence, who has been vice-chancellor of Sydney University since July.

"I've never seen Chinese influence in university decision-making and I am not aware of any decision we have made because of so-called fear of the Chinese."

'These people are highly sought after'

He said there was already a lot of social media chatter "about whether Australia is as welcoming a place as it used to be." At the same time, "these people are highly sought after. They're selected out of a population of 1.2 billion and universities in the US and Europe are lining up to take them."

"If you were standing outside David Jones and Mr Jones said 'we're not sure we like you and some of you are engaged in retail espionage', you might go to Myers."

Dr Spence's comments came after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's recent trip to Japan reports last year that local academics were coming under the close scrutiny of overseas Chinese students, including complaints about teaching methods, and publicly demanding apologies.

Chinese students have released footage filmed secretly of Australian academics teaching subjects in a manner that contradict the ruling diktat in China. These include the status of Taiwan and Hong Kong, and claims and counter-claims in the current China-India border dispute.

Last October ASIO reported it had not been able to keep up with the growing level of "harmful espionage and foreign interference" operations being carried out in Australia, which have included attempts to covertly influence public debate.

'Foreign powers'

According to Australia's domestic intelligence agency, "foreign powers" were "clandestinely seeking to shape the opinions of members of the Australian public, media organisations and government officials in order to advance their country's own political objectives". However, ASIO did not single out China.

Two months later Labor senator Sam Dastyari resigned from Parliament after revelations of his close financial ties to a prominent donor to both major political parties, and prominent Chinese Communist Party member, Huang Xiangmo.

Mr Dastyari stepped down from Labor's frontbench when it was revealed he allowed a company owned by Mr Huang to pay a legal bill and had also contradicted Labor's official policy on the South China Sea.

Later, Fairfax Media reported that Mr Dastyari warned Mr Huang in a secret face-to-face meeting in October that his phone was probably being tapped by US agencies.

Around the same time, the government introduced tough new legislation to curb foreign interference in Australian affairs, including harsh criminal penalties for people who refuse to reveal they are being financed by foreign interests and at the same are trying to influence relevant areas of Australian policy.

Dr Spence said he was seeking a meeting with Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, "to understand better what the government is trying to do in our relations with our most important trading partners and a very important geo-strategic power in the region".

"We want the government to understand the impact that the less careful things that are being said are having on people.

Effective advocates



"What's really going to make strong relations in our region is that every year Australia is going to send home Chinese students who are effective advocates for our country.

"These people are our big supporters in China and I don't know why you would want to alienate the people who are our strongest advocates in a major regional power. These people have got a lot invested in brand Australia.

"Quite frankly for Australian universities to maintain their position in the world's top 100 universities, they need to be open to students from around the world," Dr Spence said.

At the end of last year international students made up about 36 per cent of Sydney University's student population of 67,811. About half these came from China.

"The other thing we have noticed is that people don't always distinguish between our domestic students of East Asian origin and international students, so when they make casual comments about international students it often impacts on people whose families have been here since the 1840s. I think people have to be really careful about that sort of thing," Dr Spence said.

The article first appeared on The Australian Financial Review. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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