The feature “Censors and sensitivities” (4 January) explored the question “how can scholars tackle the rise of Chinese censorship in the West?”.
The key issue is not really that difficult for anyone who understands that “He who pays the piper calls the tune”. If you don’t want to dance a particular dance, don’t take the money; but likewise, don’t berate someone else for not paying you to do something that they would rather you didn’t do.
The Chinese government cannot impose its will on any community that does not let it, and a bit of moral courage goes a long way – just not to Beijing.
The story “Australia fears decline in Chinese students over ‘treason’ laws” (News, 18 January) reported on how a series of proposed laws to curb foreign influence in Australian politics have been portrayed by China’s Communist Party and state-governed media as “anti-China”. It quotes Merriden Varrall, director of the East Asia Program at the Sydney-based thinktank the Lowy Institute, as saying that Chinese parents and prospective students will now be “factoring in the possibility that studying in Australia may not be as much of a safe and positive experience as before”.
Universities need to make sure that studying is a safe experience for all students, including those Chinese whose views differ from official Chinese policy. This should, of course, also include those from Taiwan, Hong Kong and countries that may be in conflict with China, as well as minority Chinese such as those from Tibet and Xinjiang. This is only what you would expect in a pluralistic democracy. And while safety must be guaranteed for all, whether the experience is positive or not may depend on the students’ willingness to open their minds to the perspectives of others and to be challenged on their own.
Universities should not assume that all students will be easily able to do this, but they should never pander to those who are unable to, or to hysterical opinion pieces from foreign tabloids. Universities need to view the educational “export product” that they are selling as not just a certificate but a mind-broadening experience. If this means that they accept reduced enrolments, then it will be worth it to not have their brand devalued.