Behind Chinese International Students’ Attack on Hong Kong Protesters

Pro-democracy protesters hold up a sign during a "human chain" demonstration from the Tsim Sha Tsui to Prince Edward neighborhoods, in Hong Kong on September 30, 2019. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)
By Heng He

News Commentary

Last weekend, dozens of cities around the world staged protests in support of Hong Kong’s Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement (Anti-ELAB Movement).

Insults and even physical attacks from pro-communist activists, including international students from China, have also appeared. Chinese students’ attack on Anti-ELAB Movement supporters’ “Lennon Wall” spread like an epidemic from The University of Queensland in Australia to The University of Auckland in New Zealand, then spread to Canada, UK, and the United States. The participants also spread from students to pro-communist communities and organizations, reminiscent of the violent attacks on pro-Tibetan protesters by pro-communist people in countries through which the Olympic torch relay passed in 2008 (ahead of the Beijing Summer Olympics).

While public opinion focus on Chinese overseas students themselves, it is necessary to discuss the underlying causes behind these events.

Whether the Boycott by Chinese Students is Spontaneous

“We will boycott you Hong Kong separatists without the Chinese embassy!” said one twitter user who had just registered for an account without a single follower.

Chinese consulates in Australia and New Zealand also claimed that those were “spontaneous patriotic acts.” I will not here discuss the fallacy that Anti-ELAB Movement equals Hong Kong independence, but it did raise a quite noteworthy issue: whether such reactions are spontaneous.

From the past experience of Chinese students studying abroad, the probability of spontaneous resistance is very high. After all, these people are all born in the 1990s, or the third to fourth generation educated after the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). From birth to kindergarten to university graduation, they were systematically brainwashed by the CCP culture while the Internet, with which they grew up, is a real local area network completely cut off from the free flow of information around the world.

When Chinese international students in western countries display these aggressive actions that are contrary to the basic values of their host countries, many will ask: why can’t they change their way of thinking when they get to the free world?

The answer is twofold. One, overseas students huddle among themselves. It’s not surprising that students from the same country often get together in the United States, but it’s easy for mainland Chinese students to form a relatively closed off group given the large quantity of Chinese students. Secondly, their main sources of news and information are in Chinese and served by the CCP, as their two major sources of news come from the Chinese media and WeChat.

Chinese-language media all over the world are influenced by the CCP to varying degrees, with only a few exceptions. What the Chinese students receive abroad are the same CCP propaganda as those within China. It’s as if they haven’t gone abroad at all.

WeChat, commonly used by Chinese students studying abroad, functions both as a messenger and media source. For the vast majority of Chinese students studying abroad, WeChat is their only means of communication with their families and other Chinese students. Alternative messaging apps in China are all monitored similarly, while foreign social media communication tools are forbidden in mainland China.

What’s worse, WeChat is also the main source of news and information for Chinese students studying abroad. Even in the United States, all Chinese-language websites that offer free information are blocked on WeChat just as they are within China. Lastly, WeChat has actually been used by the CCP or its agents as the main means of communication to mobilize and prepare overseas espionage operations.

As a result most Chinese overseas students, unless they’re extremely willing to socialize with their foreign peers or are actively looking for unrestricted information, are the same as living in China. They are still inside China’s “great firewall.”

Of course, this “spontaneous patriotism” doesn’t have much to do with “patriotism.” It is more “refined egoism,” namely an active choice to seek advantages and avoid disadvantages, because it’s generally done to impress the Chinese consulate.

There are at least two phenomena which can prove this. During Hong Kong’s protests, a real issue of territorial sovereignty occurred. India changed Ladakh, a disputed border region with China, to a directly-controlled area. This article will not discuss the attribution of the disputed area itself. With the CCP’s attitude towards the South China Sea and Diaoyu islands, this issue should be much more serious than Hong Kong’s Anti-ELAB protest. After all, there is no sovereignty involved and Hong Kongers just want to protect themselves from being wronged by Chinese judicial system. Yet no resistance has been heard online in mainland China or among overseas students regarding India. The reason is simply that the CCP didn’t express any anger.

Another phenomenon is that Chinese students’ anger does not come from themselves. Anti-ELAB supporters have a clear appeal. Every one of them can clearly state his or her reasons for protesting. However, Chinese students in Melbourne, Australia (and elsewhere) swear in unison. I don’t even think they understand what Anti-ELAB is. They don’t even know that they are ignorant. That’s why it’s a joke among some Chinese students in Australia advising those who support Hong Kong protests to “read more (information on) WeChat.”

But that is only a condition for “spontaneous acts of patriotism.” There is still a long way to go from intention to action.

Role of the University CSSA

Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) is probably the first place that Chinese students meet after they enroll.

Earlier this year, two separate sieges targeted Chemi Lhamo, a Tibetan student, and Rukiye Turdush, a Uighur activist, at two Canadian universities. In these two incidents, CSSA members were revealed to have reported directly to the local Chinese consulate and obtained instructions from the CCP regime.

Although there’s no direct evidence at this time, on Aug. 9 when some (Hong Kong?) students at the University of Sydney discussed joining the Anti-ELAB protest, there were Chinese students discussing on WeChat about how to respond and said they had reported them to the education office of the consulate.

Since the education office happened to have direct control of the CSSA, there is reason to believe that this Chinese student is the contact person between the CSSA and the Chinese consulate. The CSSA has a long history of acting on the CCP’s behalf to besiege their “enemies” overseas.

In 2007, the CSSA of New York University (NYUCCC) teamed up with the CCP, launching a campaign against New Tang Dynasty TV’s International Classical Chinese Dance Competition at a campus venue.

In the same year, CSSA separately organized Chinese students to protest and harass seminars which exposed the CCP’s forced organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners at both The University of Pittsburgh and Columbia University. CSSA of Columbia University (CUCSSA) claimed its protests would be full of “red flags with blood”. Its protest was co-sponsored by CSSAs of 25 universities in the greater New York area.

CSSA also has an important “internal” task: monitoring and ensuring that Chinese students stay within the CCP’s rules.

Once someone shows disloyalty to the CCP, it will crack down on them and report them to the consulate. In 2008, Wang Qianyuan at Duke University was directly besieged and bullied simply because he was neutral on the Tibet issue.

At University of Maryland’s graduation ceremony in 2017, Yang Shuping, who praised America’s fresh air, democracy, freedom, and citizens’ participation in politics, was besieged by CSSA’s bullying, which was later joined by Internet bullies from China after Global Times’ instigation.

CSSA’s role here is to create a red terror among Chinese students and force them to be the CCP’s tools, organizing them to besiege other Chinese students who may be influenced by American ideas of democracy and freedom. When Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)’s radio show “Four Corners” interviewed the president of CSSA at the University of Sydney, the president said bluntly that if there were Chinese students supporting or participating in democratic activities, they would be reported to the consulate. The involvement of Global Times in Yang Shuping’s case was likely to be an assignment from above after CSSA reported to the consulate.

Public Support from the CCP

Both Chinese consulates in Australia and New Zealand issued statements in support of Chinese international students’ actions after the incidents at the University of Queensland and the University of Auckland. It triggered Australian government’s condemnation of interfering in other countries’ domestic affairs.

There is no doubt that such public support contributed to an escalation of attacks and increasing level of organization, including recent counter-protests by pro-communist Chinese students and groups in Melbourne, Sydney, London, and Japan, some of which were violent. Of course, in addition to public support, private organization and mobilization were also essential.

A Chinese student in Australia who took part in Anti-ELAB protest has had his family in China immediately visited and threatened by National Security. That goes far beyond the powers of CSSA and the consulate, although they may have tried to identify and report on the protesters.

What Can Western Universities and Governments Do

The vast majority of CSSAs are not registered as official foreign government organizations or even NGOs, but only as student clubs on campuses. In other words, almost no law can govern them. There is certainly no problem if they are independent student associations on campus like other student organizations. However, all CSSAs around the world are led by local Chinese consulates’ Education Offices on a de facto basis. They directly implement the CCP consulate’s policies, and the universities can do little about it.

Some suggest that universities should take certain actions to stop the Chinese students’ actions, but that’s not feasible.

First of all, even without the infiltration pressure from the CCP, American universities are already suffering from a serious erosion of freedom of speech. Seldom do they seriously tackle with Chinese students’ infringement of others’ freedom of speech. Secondly, Chinese international students are the main source of many universities’ tuition income.

As long as they’re not too absurd, universities will try to avoid biting the “hand which feeds them.” Lastly, since it involves foreign embassies and consulates, which is beyond the jurisdiction of such universities, even if the universities want to control them, they are powerless to do so.

Any possible solution must involve the federal government. Relying only on universities doesn’t work. In the cases of Wang Qianyuan and Yang Shuping, these two universities didn’t investigate or punish any Chinese students or the CSSA responsible persons who caused serious injury to the victims.

What CSSA and some Chinese students say about campus politics is not a problem of freedom of speech, because they’re not expressing themselves. They don’t even have their own opinions.

What they’re doing is blocking other students’ freedom of speech, and the CSSA’s position comes from the CCP totalitarian regime. This is an issue of whether democratic countries should condone foreign governments directly interfering with freedom of speech at home.

Right after the Chinese consulate issued a statement supporting Chinese students’ attack on the “Lennon wall,” Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne immediately warned the CCP’s diplomat to respect freedom of speech and the right to peaceful protest. David Seymour, a MP in New Zealand and leader of ACT New Zealand, asked the Consul General of China in Auckland not to exploit New Zealand’s internal affairs. These counterattacks are necessary and timely. The police also arrested at least two aggressive Chinese students, but these isolated actions are not enough to stop the CCP’s agenda broadly.

Because all of the harassing incidents have a background of the CCP manipulating Chinese students through CSSA, which didn’t happen in western countries even during the cold war, governments should strengthen law enforcement to protect the freedom of speech on campus, including the freedom for Chinese students to pursue universal values and to disagree with the CCP.

For countries that already have relevant laws like the United States and Australia, since CSSAs are subject of and funded by a foreign government, members must be made to register as known foreign agents.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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