Overseas Chinese student associations deny spying for government

Updated 2017-06-09 08:48:58 Global Times

Groups deny stifling freedom of speech on overseas campuses

Chinese student organizations in the U.S. rebuffed accusations on Thursday that they are involved in espionage activities for the Chinese government and have interfered with academic freedom or freedom of speech on campuses, following a call to ban all Chinese students' associations overseas.

"The Association of Chinese Students and Scholars at Yale (ACSSY) is and has always been a non-political organization," read a statement sent by the ACSSY to the Global Times on Thursday.

The statement comes after forbes.com published a commentary Sunday which said Chinese students and scholars associations (CSSA) at foreign universities seek to "monitor and control the speech of Chinese students and professors abroad."

The commentary, titled "Ban official Chinese student organizations abroad," was written by Anders Corr, whose bio on the Forbes website claims he has five years of military intelligence experience and now owns a company that offers political risk analysis services.

"The CSSA is an organization established for student governance, and its mission is to enrich students' lives and spread Chinese culture," Wang Zhenhao, president of the CSSA at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin told the Global Times on Thursday.

Corr's article also said CSSA members have been accused of espionage, and questioned their connection with Chinese embassies in countries like Australia, the UK and the U.S. However, Wang said contact is necessary as it can help ensure the students' safety in case of an emergency.

"It is ridiculous to accuse the CSSA of espionage only because they have a connection with the Chinese government. The CSSA has to work with Chinese embassies on many matters, such as holding job fairs to link top Chinese firms or institutions with our students in the UK, and seeking assistance and consular protection in case of an accident or disaster," a former Durham University CSSA member surnamed Yang, said.

Any funding given by embassies to CSSAs have never had any strings attached, the Yale statement said, adding that the contact is also about receiving non-political support for training, such as entrepreneurship training.

According to the websites of CSSAs at U.S. universities, their activities mainly include holding parties, playing games, organizing outdoor activities and holding lectures.

"The ambitions and ideals of our schoolmates are extremely diverse," the Yale statement said.

Corr also called for a ban on such organizations in order to "protect academic independence and democracy," saying "such government intervention, propaganda and restrictions on freedom of speech are contrary to the principles of academic freedom."

However, Wang said their activities are subject to university supervision, and "there's no way we can 'monitor or control' freedom of speech or academic freedom."

"We have never violated any local law, but we have the right to love and miss our motherland while studying overseas. If patriotic events or speeches are considered examples of espionage or interfering in freedoms, or using them as an excuse to ban the CSSA, then who is, in fact, interfering in the exercise of freedoms?" Yang said.

'China-phobia'

A television program aired by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) also made similar accusations, which the Chinese foreign ministry slammed on Monday, calling it baseless and "not even worth refuting."

Meanwhile, former U.S. National Intelligence Agency director James Clapper told ABC that "They [China and Russia] are seeking ways to exert influence using many techniques - diplomatic, economic, military - that they haven't done before."

Western countries should get used to a rising China, which believes in a different ideology, and stop overreacting, Wang Sixin, a law professor at the Communication University of China, told the Global Times on Thursday.

Apart from the "China-phobia" mindset, the competitiveness of Chinese studying and working abroad also makes some foreigners feel threatened amid their sluggish economy, Wang said. However, such discrimination-based accusations could damage the image of its own country, he added.

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