UK's anti-China hysteria highlights deep-rooted prejudices
Liu Jianxi

Editor's Note: Liu Jianxi is an opinion editor with CGTN Digital. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

"There is clear evidence that autocracies are seeking to shape the research agenda or curricula of UK universities, as well as limit the activities of researchers on university campuses." In its recent report Defending Democracy in an Age of Autocracies, the British foreign affairs committee elaborated the "alarming evidence" of China's so-called interference into the UK's academic freedom.

The report put particular emphasis on the role of Confucius Institutes in confiscating materials pertaining to Taiwan. It warned that "The battle for university students or trade deals should not outweigh the international standards which have brought freedom and prosperity to the UK."

It is not the first time that the UK demonized China's normal academic activities. Earlier, British newspaper The Times even accused Chinese international students of being spies and alerted local institutions about the security risks of intense research partnerships with China.

Meanwhile, a slew of right-wing media outlets are concerned that the UK universities' reliance on China may contribute to their silence on Beijing's "repression" in Hong Kong and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

This is typical anti-China hysteria. Following the United States, the UK is emerging as another mouthpiece of the "China threat" theory. "Absurd" is perhaps the best word to respond to their groundless accusations.

To begin with, matters in Hong Kong, Taiwan or Xinjiang concern China's sovereignty. The Chinese central government cannot tolerate any provocation on its national interests. Any "academic" discussion with an intention to interfere in China's domestic affairs or even split its territory has touched the country's bottom line. It has nothing to do with so-called academic freedom.

The logic is straightforward. If China released "academic" papers advocating Northern Ireland's fight for independence from Britain, it would, for sure, incur strong opposition and protests from the British government. But when it comes to China, the country's justified actions to safeguard sovereignty are equated with infringement on academic freedom.

Students from the Confucius Institute perform in London, the UK, January 29, 2019. /VCG Photo

Students from the Confucius Institute perform in London, the UK, January 29, 2019. /VCG Photo

This is pure discrimination against China. Labeling Chinese students as spies, Western institutes and media outlets are publicly alienating this group from other international students. It is an open secret that in the West, Chinese are always targeted when their peers talk about democracy or politics.

According to media reports, there are over 100,000 Chinese overseas students in the UK at present. Chinese parents sent their children to a country thousands of miles away from home for better education and opportunities to broaden their horizons, not for political reasons. Branding Chinese international students as spies is ridiculous, at the very least. It only reflects the West's deep-rooted racial prejudices against China.

Such bias stems from the West's inadaptability to the changes in the international configuration. Since the end of the Cold War, U.S.-led Western countries have gotten used to their dominant status in the global order and international discourse system. But all these privileges are now being challenged with China's rapid rise in recent years.

The changes are not what the West is ready to accept, and China is being targeted in this context. It is worth noting the rise of its soft power always accompanies a country's economic rise. This is why, apart from hyping the "strategic intentions" behind Chinese investments, Western countries are now gradually paying more attention to China's "malicious purposes" of its increasingly active academic exchanges.

Pointing a criticizing finger at China, the West, instead, is wantonly breaching academic freedom. China's conspicuous absence from the International Astronautical Congress is one of the latest examples to demonstrate the West's double standards. Bragging itself as a bastion of freedom, the United States ironically excluded socialist China from the global space conference by denying visas to Chinese participants.

The UK has been known for its rationality and openness to China. Its recent allegations against Beijing are disappointing. It is hoped that the country could return to rationality in dealing with China, which is to the benefit of not only the two countries but also the international community.

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