Fearing Hong Kong’s National Security Law, Oxford Students Now Submitting Work Anonymously

The University of Oxford.

The UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) recently drew up a list of 44 specific academic disciplines for student applicant review. (Image: MarlonRondal via Pixabay)

Students from Oxford who have enrolled in courses related to China have been asked to submit their work anonymously. The decision is in response to China imposing its National Security Law in Hong Kong and aims to protect the students from any backlash from Beijing should their work highlight the negatives of the communist regime.

Academic freedom under threat at Oxford

Patricia Thornton teaches Chinese politics at Oxford University. She believes that her students now need some extra protection from Beijing. As such, Thornton has asked her students to present the work of their peers that has any identifying information removed in classes so that no one knows who has written what. She will not be making any changes to the teaching material. In addition, students have been asked not to record any classes that take place online.

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Thornton points out that it is impossible to conduct collective critical inquiry without the guarantee of free speech and academic freedom. China’s new National Security Law nullifies such protections. If a student writes a paper critical of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at Oxford and he was to later visit Hong Kong for some purpose, the student could be arrested by Chinese authorities, according to the security law. As such, the only way to protect students is to anonymize their work.

A woman in the audience at a debate stands with a microphone to ask a question.
It is impossible to conduct collective critical inquiry without the guarantee of free speech and academic freedom. (Image: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland via Flickr)

Interestingly, the current chancellor of Oxford is Lord Chris Patten, who served as the last British governor of Hong Kong. He noted that students who come from China to Oxford often move from an environment where they are monitored with cameras in classes and have to constantly remain alert against possible informants mixed in with them.

Oxford is not the only institution implementing such safety protocols. Students from Princeton University in New Jersey will use code names when submitting works related to Chinese politics. Harvard University has allowed students a waiver from discussing sensitive issues in case they are worried about their safety.

The British Association for Chinese Studies has warned universities not to be so obsessed with implementing measures to protect against the National Security Law that they end up censoring anti-CCP content just because it would be “risky.” This would essentially mean submitting British academics to Chinese communist censorship. In March this year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a warning that many universities across the world are not prepared to meet the threat to academic freedom posed by the Chinese regime.

“Few have moved to protect academic freedom against longstanding problems, such as visa bans on scholars working on China or surveillance and self-censorship on their campuses… Chinese authorities have long monitored and conducted surveillance on students and academics from China and those studying China on campuses around the world,” the organization said, as reported by Radio Free Asia.

Goodbye to Hong Kong?

Meanwhile, a large number of Hongkongers are apparently looking forward to saying goodbye to their city, fearing the consequences of the National Security Law. In a poll conducted by a local media outlet, it was revealed that almost 37 percent of the citizens had considered exiting Hong Kong even before the law was implemented. After the implementation, 76 percent admitted that their desire to leave Hong Kong has only intensified.

A view from a hillside overlooking the coast of Taiwan.
Taiwan is the top destination for Hongkongers looking to relocate because of the National Security Law. (Image: Erik Tunestål via Flickr)

More than 32 percent of respondents said they were interested in moving to Taiwan. The UK came a close second at 23 percent. Britain has introduced a policy that would facilitate Hong Kong British National Overseas passport holders a path to citizenship. According to data from Taiwan’s immigration department, the island nation has provided residency permits to 3,161 Hongkongers in the first half of 2020, which is a 116 percent increase compared to the same period last year.

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