Chinese Communist Party spies at New Zealand universities suspect professors

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University of Auckland students move between lectures on Symonds St, Photo / Michael Craig, File

Of RNZ

Chinese Communist Party spies infiltrate New Zealand universities, three professors of Chinese politics and history suspects.

University of Auckland professor Dr Stephen Noakes said people not enrolled in his course attended his lectures and appeared to be collecting information.

Two other academics reported similar experiences in Wellington and Christchurch.

Their stories feature in the new Red Line podcast series, produced by RNZ and Bird of Paradise Productions, released today.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is known to want to tightly control what is said about China and its history both inside and outside China.

Noakes said that once someone took pictures in his amphitheater.

Dr Stephen Noakes is a senior lecturer in politics and international relations, mainly in contemporary Chinese politics and foreign policy.  Photo / Michael Craig, file
Dr Stephen Noakes is a senior lecturer in politics and international relations, mainly in contemporary Chinese politics and foreign policy. Photo / Michael Craig, file

“There was someone I didn’t recognize in the room and that person was pointing at a phone and taking pictures of the slides,” he said. “It made me incredibly uncomfortable and I continued after that. I never saw this person again.”

Catherine Churchman, who teaches ancient Chinese history at Victoria University in Wellington, said she had received similar attention.

In 2017, while teaching a Chinese history class, a man she thought was a student criticized her for the content of her class.

“I looked at him and thought, ‘What are you actually [doing] in my class anyway? ‘ And he said, ‘I am, I am a visiting scholar.’ And I said, ‘Well, you’re not supposed to be here.’ “

Catherine Churchman of Victoria University.  Photo / Supplied, File
Catherine Churchman of Victoria University. Photo / Supplied, File

She told him to leave immediately, she said.

“I was like, ‘Well, this is the end’, but I wondered why he was there in the first place and how he got the information about the conference at that time.”

She later saw him get off a bus near the Chinese Embassy in Wellington.

“Maybe it was pure coincidence. Maybe he lived there, I don’t know,” she said.

“But the fact that he was quite determined to try and hire me to find out things; that he came to my class without asking permission and tried to correct me with the… “official position” on Chinese history and their relationship with non-Chinese people – I found that rather suspicious. “

University of Canterbury professor Anne-Marie Brady said she often had people who shouldn’t be there.

“I brought people into my class who weren’t registered students and who were there to observe or disrupt. I just said, “If you haven’t enrolled in my class, you haven’t paid the fees, you can ‘not be here’.”

Anne-Marie Brady, professor at the University of Canterbury.  Photo / Supplied, File
Anne-Marie Brady, professor at the University of Canterbury. Photo / Supplied, File

She had to “kick” a woman out of her 2019 class.

“She really wanted to stay and observe and not just observe – it was in a disruptive way, it was a little intimidating way, for some of the other people in the class.”

Noakes said it was also becoming more difficult to teach Chinese politics due to a new breed of Chinese nationalism.

“What we now often see is that the students enrolled in our courses from mainland China are much more nationalistic than they were when I started teaching at universities 12-15 years ago. years, ”he said.

Noakes, a senior lecturer in politics and international relations who also previously held university positions in China and Taiwan, believed this nationalism to be “state-led” – or driven by the CCP.

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“There is renewed interest in China for national pride. It is an explicit pillar of Xi Jinping’s leadership, and that focus, that purpose, spills over from state and party leadership to those who come out of Chinese education systems, and then they come to our door one day. “

He said that a common manifestation of this was for Chinese students to assert in class that the media coverage of the massacre of civilians by Chinese state troops in Tiananmen Square in June 1989 was an invention of the West for make China look bad.

“It usually happens a few times per semester,” Noakes said.

“Someone will introduce themselves and say that the video or photo of Tiananmen ‘Tank Man’ is fake news – that it is a falsified version being propagated by foreign journalists who hate China and want to destroy it. “

“Tank man” temporarily halted the advance of tanks en route to a demonstration in Tiananmen Square. Photo / Jeff Widener, AP, File

RNZ contacted the Chinese Embassy but did not receive a response.



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