Beijing on Thursday criticised as “fictitious” a report by British politicians claiming there was “alarming evidence” of Chinese interference on university campuses.
The report, which was released Tuesday, cited examples where Beijing-linked organisations appeared to suppress freedom of speech at institutions of higher education.
One academic told lawmakers he saw Confucius Institute officials confiscating papers which mentioned Taiwan — which Beijing considers a rebel province awaiting reunification — at an academic conference.
Likened to France’s Alliance Francaise, Spain’s Instituto Cervantes and the British Council, the Confucius Institute teaches students about Chinese language and culture at hundreds of universities around the world.
Christopher Hughes, a professor at the London School of Economics, said he had seen Chinese students in the British capital engaged in activities to “undermine Hong Kong protestors”.
“China has always adhered to a principle of non-interference in internal affairs,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang at a press briefing.
The UK lawmakers should “do more to… advance China-UK relations, instead of making fictitious remarks and sowing discord,” Geng added.
The report comes as pro-democracy demonstrations in semi-autonomous Hong Kong have sparked tensions across universities in countries such as Australia and New Zealand, as students organise rallies both in support of — and against — the protest movement.
In Australia, public rallies and acts of solidarity have been staged at several campuses, angering some mainland Chinese students who have physically confronted protestors and torn down message boards.
The Chinese government does not appear to have tried to quiet the tensions, with consulates in Auckland and Brisbane praising the “spontaneous patriotism” of pro-Beijing students.
Hong Kong has been convulsed by five months of huge and increasingly violent protests calling for greater democratic freedoms and police accountability — representing the biggest challenge to Beijing’s rule since the city was handed back to Britain in 1997.
In July, Australian education minister Dan Tehan said the government was looking at whether deals between thirteen local universities and the Confucius Institute breached foreign interference laws.
It came after the Sydney Morning Herald published 11 of the 13 contracts between the Confucius Institute and Australian universities.
Four contracts featured clauses giving the organisation final say on “teaching quality” and stated activities must respect “cultural custom”.
In return, the universities received minimum funding of Aus$100,000-$150,000 and 3,000 Chinese books and other materials.