‘Anti-slavery’ NI university should speak up for victims of Chinese regime: Campaigner

Ulster University is being urged to speak out over the actions of the Chinese government in Xinjiang – particularly since the university has touted its “zero-tolerance approach to modern slavery”.

Tuesday, 27th April 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 27th April 2021, 8:41 am
A still from a BBC report on Chinese treatment of the Uyghurs, depicting current Chinese leader Xi Jinping (left) and former dictator Chairman Mao

As reported in the News Letter yesterday, the university was asked a series of questions about its links to the regime via its Confucius Institute – a body set up in 2011 to forge closer clutural and business ties with China.

The university refused to say how much funding it gets from China (on the grounds that the information is held by the Chinese state) and whilst it says it has no ties specifically to the province of Xinjiang, it also declined to criticise China’s policies there.

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NI university refuses to say how much cash it gets from communist tyranny

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A still from footage broadcast on Sky, purporting to show Uyghur captives – blindfolded and cuffed and under heavy escort – at a Chinese train station

Xinjiang is a region of mountains and deserts in the far west of China, inhabited by the Uyghur people – who are ethnically like Turks and are mainly Muslim.

The Chinese government has herded unknown numbers of them into concentration camps where it is alleged they are ubject to “re-education” aimed at getting them to renounce their religious beliefs and fully support the regime in Beijing.

It is further alleged that capitives have been subject to forced sterlisation, forced abortions, and forced labour.

The US government has described China’s network of Confucius Institutes embedded within western universities as a means of “advancing Beijing’s malign influence”.

The university’s anti-slavery statement says “modern slavery is an international crime affecting millions... we have a zero-tolerance approach to modern slavery and staff have a duty and a responsibility to support this approach”.

China analyst Bryce Barros from the Alliance for Securing Democracy (a European think-tank with strong ties to the USA) said: “The language used in the response from Ulster University follows a pattern of language used by other entities co-operating with organs with ties to the People’s Republic of China or the Chinese Communist Party, that do not want to offend their partners.

“From a human rights standpoint, my concern is whether there will there be pushback against students or faculty who voice their opinions related to human rights abuses conducted by the Chinese Communist Party and other entities in Xinjiang.

The Confucius Institute and Ulster University should be more transparent about their ties to relieve concerns of pushing pro-Chinese Communist Party narratives or messages in their curriculum.

“For example, in the United States, not all Confucius Institutes try to meddle in the affairs of their host universities.

“But it is important that universities ensure the relationship is as transparent as possible for the students, staff, faculty, and communities they serve.

“It is equally important that institutions which have taken public stands against modern slavery in all forms speak up about the genocide of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.”

The comments were put to Ulster University.

It responded: “The University’s Confucius Institute was established to develop academic, cultural, economic and social ties between Northern Ireland and China, and the University engages with the Institute on that basis.

“No requests have ever been received from any Chinese body to push any pro-Chinese or Communist narrative in curriculum and any such requests would be declined as outside the terms of our engagement.”

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Alistair Bushe