An Australian university will hold a hearing on Wednesday to consider the expulsion of a student after he protested against the Chinese Communist Party.
Drew Pavlou, 20, is a philosophy major at the University of Queensland, whose website states that it possesses “more student mobility, research collaborations, and commercialization partnerships with China than with almost any other country.”
The Chinese consul general in Brisbane, Xu Jie, also serves as an adjunct professor at the university, which is home to a Confucius institute, one of many such Chinese-funded institutes around the world that U.S. officials have warned serve as propaganda centers.
The university accuses Pavlou of damaging its reputation after he protested outside its Confucius institute in a hazmat suit in March, and referred to the institute as a “biohazard” on Facebook. Pavlou has repeatedly criticized China’s treatment of Uighurs, and says he was assaulted by pro-Beijing agitators at a summer protest in support of Hong Kong democracy activists.
University of Queensland lawyers have threatened to prosecute Pavlou for contempt of court. The university alleges that Pavlou engaged in harassment of students and staff.
“This is just absolutely extraordinary for an Australian public university to be threatening a student critic of China with imprisonment,” Pavlou told the Wall Street Journal. Clive Stuart, a professor at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, said that the connections between the University of Queensland and China may be too deep to overcome.
“I think that the top levels of the university [of Queensland] have essentially been groomed by Chinese Communist Party agents over the years and they’ve come to believe that their first objective is to keep Beijing happy,” Stuart said.
The issue of Chinese influence on college campuses has come to a head during the coronavirus pandemic, with at least 25 universities in the U.S. shutting down their own Confucius institutes. There are roughly 100 such institutes remaining in operation in the U.S. In 2019, FBI director Christopher Wray testified that Confucius institutes “offer a platform to disseminate Chinese government or Chinese Communist Party propaganda, to encourage censorship, to restrict academic freedom.”