Australian schools become battleground over Hong Kong protests

Australian schools become battleground over Hong Kong protests, by AFP.

Tensions in Hong Kong have rippled across Australian universities, as supporters of the pro-democracy protests have been targeted and harassed by “patriotic” Chinese students — with the tacit backing of Beijing.

A Lennon Wall, Hong Kong

Public rallies and other acts of solidarity have been staged at several campuses during the Asian financial hub’s two months of civil unrest, including the emergence of “Lennon walls” plastered with notes extolling the virtues of free speech and democracy.

Lennon Wall, at the ANU, Canberra

Left’s suppression tactics here too:

That has angered some Chinese students, who have physically confronted protesters, torn down message boards and demanded that universities provide a “pure study environment” free of political messages that “insult” their homeland. …

“We wear masks because we know they will take photos and put it online on their social network sites and they try to find [out] who [we] are,” said James, a 23-year-old student who witnessed the skirmish.

Several students who participated had their details published online and at least one had been the target of harassment, including anonymous telephone calls, he said. …

Student activist Drew Pavlou, who has supported the campus protests, was told to “be careful” and received messages from someone who knew his name, claimed to know his whereabouts and threatened to “kill his family.” …

The dollars:

Australia’s cash-strapped universities have struggled to respond, weighing support for free speech with the need to sustain a lucrative supply of Chinese students.

More than 181,000 Chinese are enrolled in Australian universities — by far the largest cohort of overseas students — bringing more than US$6.8 billion into the economy each year, but economic ties run much deeper.

The University of Queensland is one of 12 universities that host a Confucius Institute — a Chinese government-funded school that teaches language and culture.

In 2012, Monash University became the first Australian university to be granted a highly lucrative license to operate in China.

Both universities said that it was important to allow students to safely voice their opinions.