Targeting Chinese students in Britain is a disgrace
Tom Fowdy
A bird's-eye view of Hong Kong. /VCG

A bird's-eye view of Hong Kong. /VCG

Editor's note: Tom Fowdy is a British political and international relations analyst and a graduate of Durham and Oxford universities. He writes on topics pertaining to China, the DPRK, Britain, and the U.S. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

On June 6, the Times of London run with a story titled "Call to Bar Chinese Students used as propaganda by Beijing," citing a development at the University of Warwick earlier this month whereby Chinese international students voted against a student union motion supporting the protests in Hong Kong. 

The article quoted hawkish Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, leader of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, who accused the Chinese students of being "mobilized" by the Chinese government, stated they were "empowering state censorship" and recommended that "if students are removed for political reasons by a state they should not be allowed to pre-enrol at another university."

This move is prejudiced, unhinged and absolutely disgraceful. Chinese students are human beings, yet this fanatical rhetoric retrogrades them to mere puppets of the government who are deprived of having a legitimate say, perspective or outlook on the Hong Kong issue that contravenes the Western narrative; in essence, they have no right to properly "disagree" with the Western point of view. 

Student union leaders have continually defended their positions to journalists pushing this issue, but have been repeatedly ignored. One cannot preach the virtues of liberal democracy to Chinese and then simply dismiss it when it fails to deliver a suitable outcome. Britain's reputation as an open, progressive and welcoming place for China's top talent is at risk.

Western political thought has a tendency to claim a monopoly over what constitutes political truth. Ignoring the fact that political perspectives are inherently subjective according to one's own identity and socio-economic position, liberalism advocates the idea that there is only one "legitimate" point of view which exists in a holistic way, and that by "enlightenment" every human being will reach the same conclusions and perspectives on a given issue, irrespective of the practical and material realities embodied within it. 

Therefore on Hong Kong, many Western politicians have pre-emptively decided that there can only be one "true" opinion on the matter, and that on the question of protests in the city if one is presented with the facts they cannot possibly disagree.

In doing so, every contrarian opinion on the matter of Hong Kong which disagrees with the Western narrative is rendered illegitimate, because there is according to these people only one true, rational and legitimate perspective which exists. 

Therefore, whosoever opposes the unrest in Hong Kong is either misinformed, oppressed or acting in deliberate dishonesty under the whim of the Communist Party of China. Those who challenge the Western narrative are deemed never in any circumstance to be acting in good faith because there are not differing opinions, but only one deemed "truth" on the matter which is acceptable.

Taking this mindset forward, journalists, politicians and commentators reject the idea that Chinese students at British universities could legitimately oppose protests in Hong Kong and subsequently deprive them of individual agency and perspective, accusing their activity of being nothing more than a state-led drive to censor freedom of speech. They assume that their "true" perspective would instead support it. 

A resident signs a petition in a street campaign in support of national security legislation for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in Hong Kong, south China, May 23, 2020. /Xinhua

A resident signs a petition in a street campaign in support of national security legislation for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in Hong Kong, south China, May 23, 2020. /Xinhua

This is inherently misleading. Such an opinion fails to even give scope to the fact that Chinese students often genuinely oppose the movement on a ground of identity, with many seeing the moment as inherently antagonistic to China and being politicized by some politicians to undermine the country. This does not mean they automatically reject ideas of democracy in a zero-sum fashion.

In doing so, Chinese student representative at Warwick University Zishi Zhang has been repeatedly targeted by journalists who have refused to accept his position as legitimate, with some fanatical individuals in the U.S. determined to portray his views in "bad faith" terms and falsely depict him as an agent of the Chinese government. This again is a misleading, ideological and unnuanced view of what it actually means to be a Chinese student. 

In turn, the British press, as per The Times article, is now actually giving a platform to the idea that some Chinese students should be banned from the UK, a move which is inherently McCarthyist, racist and ironically is forcing students to accept given points of view on certain issues.

The fact that some in the UK ought to consider taking this path is extremely regretful. Chinese students contribute billions to British universities and the British economy, they do not come here to "undermine democracy" but they come here to learn and in turn, rigorously devote themselves to their students. 

If certain British politicians are allowed to get away with dragging the country down this path, it will pose severe risks to the credibility of the UK as a tolerant, open and progressive place to study that offers a gratifying experience.

Overall, this mentality has to be resisted and challenged vigorously. The scapegoating and vilification of Chinese students as a potential threat to the UK is a misleading, fanatical and deeply prejudiced notion which misrepresents human beings as mere robots and puppets and ironically aims to deprive them of a fundamental right to disagree on topics pertaining to their own country. This is completely unacceptable.

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