China's chokehold on universities even stronger overseas, Australian case suggests

“I am being threatened with this unprecedented move because of UQ’s particularly close relationship with the Chinese party-state.”

An Australian student says he is facing expulsion and lawsuits after stating his beliefs about China on and off campus.

An Australian student says he is facing possible expulsion from his university over his criticism of the Chinese government and his university’s strong ties to the country. Drew Pavlou, a sophomore at the University of Queensland in Australia, is faced with the possibility of expulsion after he protested outside the university’s Confucius Institute in a hazmat suit in March.

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Pavlou has consistently been a voice against the university’s involvement with China, citing the country’s human rights violations. 

The university claims that Pavlou, who characterized the school’s Confucius Institute as a “biohazard,” caused harm to its reputation.

UQ boasts on its website that “UQ has more student mobility, research collaborations, and commercialization partnerships with China than with almost any other country.”

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In an April 30 Twitter thread, Pavlou accused the university of “dirty tactics” involving recruiting a pro-Chinese Communist Party student government candidate to run against him. 

“Out of frustration with UQ’s bullying tactics and their utter hostility to dialogue or discussion, I took to mocking the UQ Confucius Institute online. I posted a satirical Facebook event: ‘’UQ Confucius Institute Panel - Why Uyghurs Must Be Exterminated,” wrote Pavlou.

“The satirical nature of this event was clear to any reasonable observer. It was a satirical jab, pointing out the fact that the UQ Confucius Institute is fundamentally an arm of the same state pursuing genocide against Uyghur Muslims,” he continued.

Pavlou wrote that after this event, he was sent a letter by a legal firm representing UQ, threatening to take legal action against him for his actions. In an article for Foreign Policy, Pavlou described his account of the events that took place after he protested outside the Confucius Institute. 

“I am being threatened with this unprecedented move because of UQ’s particularly close relationship with the Chinese party-state; UQ enjoys perhaps the closest relationship of any university with the Chinese government in the Anglosphere,” wrote the student.

“In addition to funding and controlling a Confucius Institute on campus, the Chinese government funds at least four accredited UQ courses that present a party-approved version of Chinese history to students, glossing over human rights abuses Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, and mainland China.” Pavlou added.

With more than 11,000 Chinese students enrolled at UQ, 208 Chinese-born staff members, and research facilities throughout China, Chinese students are the largest international group represented at the university.

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UQ’s Vice-Chancellor Peter Haj has recently come under fire for having received a $130,000 bonus from the university for his support and reinforcement of Chinese individuals and ties to universities around Australia.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Jess__Custodio