Over the last several months, opponents of the ongoing protests in Hong Kong have clashed with protest supporters at universities across the world. In Australia and New Zealand, pro-Beijing students have occasionally shoved, doxed, and threatened peaceful protesters. In some cases, these activities seem to have been directed by Chinese embassies and consulates, while others appear to have been spontaneous actions, undertaken by students from mainland China.
Meanwhile, in mid-October, the London School of Economics suspended a plan to launch a China program funded by Eric X. Li, a Shanghai businessman known for his pro-Chinese Communist Party views. In Belgium, the former head of a Confucius Institute was recently accused of spying and banned from entering Europe’s 26-country Schengen area.
Such events have prompted larger concerns that as China’s power grows, so too has its ability to shape, suppress, and censor speech around the world. This has raised alarm at the prospect that various forms of pressure emanating from China’s government could erode the foundations of liberal education and democratic debate.
How should universities encourage respectful dialogue on contentious issues involving China, while at the same time fostering an environment free of intimidation, harassment, and violence? And to how should university administrators and governments involve themselves in this process?