In a bid to expand its influence in the UK, China is manipulating students and universities in the country. This is raising concerns among British lawmakers as to the presence of Chinese students and Beijing-backed institutions in the United Kingdom.
“At LSE (London School of Economics and Political Sciences) we had an issue at the end of the last term with a map of Taiwan on a sculpture we commissioned. It turned students against each other… There is evidence that some parts of the student body are being manipulated and used by the embassy and their agents, and that this is organized,” Dr. Christopher Hughes, a professor of international relations, said to The Telegraph. LSE had to eventually add an asterisk next to Taiwan, with a note stating that the border depicted on the statue is only an artist’s representation and that several disputed borders exist.
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At the University of Leeds, special language classes on Chinese culture are being offered to local businesses, with the aim of secretly developing a relationship between Chinese and British bureaucrats. A media research center at the University of Westminster that has links with Beijing has offered training to over 600 people from the Chinese administration on how to handle the British media. UK’s Foreign Affairs Committee recently published a report that criticized the British government for not doing enough to protect the country’s universities from Chinese influence.
The report highlighted the activities of Confucius Institutes, which use the Chinese Students and Scholars Association as a tool of political interference. Individuals who are designated as dissidents by Beijing, like an Uyghur woman named Ayesha, are monitored by the Chinese administration while their relatives back home are harassed. In one incident, the institutes were involved in confiscating papers that had mentioned Taiwan at an academic conference.
Back in March, the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission (CPHRC) had called for reviewing the partnerships between British universities and Confucius Institutes. A report prepared by the commission pointed out that these institutes were censoring three topics in the UK — Tibet, Taiwan, and the Tiananmen Massacre. Several staff members at the institutes were also found to have been subject to religious discrimination.
Surge in applications
Concerns about Chinese influence in the UK have not stopped Chinese students from applying to British colleges in record numbers. According to data from the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS), applications from Chinese students for the 2019 admission cycle was up by about 30 percent compared to the previous cycle.
Over the past decade, the admission numbers of Chinese students has more than doubled. “In 2007-2008, there were 43,530 Chinese students in the UK… Ten years later the total went up to 106,530, of which 60,460 were postgraduate students and 46,070 undergraduates… The University of Manchester has the largest population of Chinese students in Europe. With about 5,000 Chinese students out of a total of just over 40,000, about one in eight students are Chinese,” according to The Guardian.
Since Chinese students tend to choose limited subjects like economics, electrical engineering, finance, etc., they actually end up studying in a class with a significant Chinese presence. They are also markedly different from their native peers. Chinese students like to spend their free time in activities like karaoke, shopping, preparing hotpots at home, and so on. In contrast, British students tend to spend time in pubs and listening to music.