While the international community is heaving a collective sigh of relief over the withdrawal of forces by India and China from Doklam, concerns are being raised over the way Beijing is using its proxies in Australia to flex its muscle.
“The challenge is how do we cope with the fact that our single-biggest customer is instructing students and teachers to have red hot patriotic sentiment when they are in Australia,” John Garnaut, a former adviser to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, has said.
Garnaut, who has also been a correspondent in China, has expressed concern over the way Chinese students have mobilised against teachers who displayed what they perceived to be anti-China sentiments, the Australian Financial Review reported.
The senior Australian bureaucrat seems to be referring to a recent incident in which a University of Sydney Information Technology lecturer was forced to issue a public apology after Chinese students expressed outrage over his use of a map showing Chinese-claimed territory as part of India.
A Wechat account run by a Chinese students’ group, aptly-named Australian Red Scarf, posted an article demanding that the map be removed.
The timing of the demand surprised many as the map was used as lecture material 18-months back by the lecturer concerned. It is believed that the border spat at Doklam provoked the protest.
The fact that the senior IT lecturer, Khimji Vaghjiani, is of Indian origin seems to have instigated the complaint about the map, downloaded from the internet.
The disturbing incident came after a bizarre protest staged by a Sydney-based Chinese automobile group as they drove in their luxury cars in front of the Indian Consulate General here on the 70th anniversary of India’s independence.
Bentleys, Lamborghinis, BMWs, AUDIs and Maseratis were reportedly among the 10 luxury cars which joined the parade representing a Communist country’s viewpoint.
“Anyone who offends China will be killed no matter how far the target is,” read one of the slogans painted on one of the luxury cars.
It is this unveiled aggression precisely which is worrying academics and political commentators Down Under.
In the past month or so, at least three similar incidents in different Australian universities have been reported. The recent assertiveness of Chinese students is being linked to instructions reportedly emitting from Beijing.
“One of (Chinese President) Xi Jinping’s objectives has been to ensure that the party can project its interests into the world, including following Chinese people wherever they go,” Garnaut said in his speech at The Australian Financial Review’s Higher Education Summit Tuesday.
According to Garnaut, President Xi is relying on the United Front Work Department to exert influence abroad.
“It’s got a large presence in Australia which is not sufficiently understood,” Garnaut was quoted as saying by the Australian Financial Review in an article headlined: “Beijing is stirring up ‘red hot patriotism’ among Chinese students on Australian campuses”.
Garnaut is not the only one raising concerns over the “large presence” of Chinese expats and international students and the way they are pushing China’s agenda in Australia.
Senior journalist Andrew Bolt has already expressed his view on the way the Chinese expats and students show their aggressive stance while pushing their nationalism in Australia.
“More than 1,200,000 Australians have Chinese ancestry,” Andrew Bolt wrote in his regular column in the Herald Sun last week.
“This is a security risk as China asserts its power — both in foreign affairs and over Chinese at home, including relatives of those here,” he added, while highlighting all the recent incidents where Chinese students have grouped and forced university lecturers to make changes to their lecture material or instructions.
Vaghjiani’s targeting prompted an intervention by Indian High Commissioner Ajay M. Gondane, who urged Australian universities to protect the right to freedom of expression in the wake of the map incident.
“I could only say that we support freedom of expression. These groups should be (promoting) inter-cultural harmony in the multicultural context in Australia,” Gondane told The Australian newspaper.
“It is a free country accepting all sorts of opinions … Those groups displaying (uncivilised) behaviour should restrain themselves,” he added.
(Rekha Bhattacharjee can be contacted at [email protected])