The Dutch public broadcaster NOS on January 19th broke news that the Netherlands’ fourth largest university, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU), was publishing materials that denies forced labor issues in Xinjiang, China, after receiving money from China.
According to the paper, the Amsterdam university received between 280,600 USD and 366,800 USD worth in euros over the past years from China. The funds were passed through the Southwest University of Political Science and Law, which is located in China’s southwestern city Chongqing.
The money was dedicated to VU’s Cross-Cultural Human Rights Center, CCHRC, which runs a scientific journal, organizes conferences and says that it looks to develop a “global view on human rights.”
Despite what the center refers to itself as, NOS said CCHRC staff, and even its newsettler repeatedly denied Beijing’s oppression of Uighur minorities and the situation in Xinjiang.
NOS reported that a CCHRC staff member, Professor Peter Peverelli, said on Linkedin that the stories related to Xinjiang were just “rumors.”
Peverelli said, “Xinjiang is simply beautiful: beautiful people, breathtaking nature and good food. And no forced labour, no genocide, or whatever lies the western media come up with.”
Meanwhile, CCHRC’s director Professor of Human Rights Tom Zwart of Utrecht University, is a regular invitee on Chinese state-media. He once said, “We should not leave it to politicians, especially not Western politicians, to determine what we think about human rights.”
Zwart told NOS the Chinese media framed his statements in their own context.
But Rob de Wijk, a professor of international relations at Leiden University in the Netherlands, argued that appearing on Chinese media already meant that Zwart was legitimizing the authoritarian regime. He said it gave Beijing the opportunity to tell Chinese that “the West also supports China.”
Rob de Wijk had canceled cooperation with China in 2019 because he was unhappy with the “Confucius Institute” interfering with academic freedom.
Under criticisms, VU said that it will end the associated partnership with China and will seek funding elsewhere.
NOS on January 20th released another report, entitled Why China is Trying to Influence Dutch Academies.
The report said that China mainly seeks restriction of academic freedom when it funds Western academic institutions.
China usually wants to create a strong national image to the outside world. Yet, it is often cornered by the US and Europe over human rights violations. To counter this, Beijing becomes more active in its propaganda and infiltration efforts.
The case with VU has not been the first and it’s led to the Dutch government’s concern about Beijing’s interference and infiltration in Dutch higher education.
In May 2021, NOS reported that a professor at the University of Groningen who hosts lectures on Chinese language and culture had signed a contract that forced him not to say or do anything that might tarnish China’s image.
According to the contract, he was paid in part by the Hanban, which is also known as the Confucius Institute Headquarters, part of China’s Ministry of Education.
Subsequently, the University of Groningen launched a petition against continued cooperation with the Confucius Institute.
Among the students of the school, those from Hong Kong were particularly concerned about this information. This is because China has been tightening restrictions on freedom and democracy in Hong Kong and continues to imprison dissidents for violating the National Security Law.
Numerous Dutch government ministers have expressed concern about the link between the Confucius Institute and the Chinese regime.
In a detailed statement to Parliament, Education Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven said that the contract includes a provision that if the Confucius Institute unilaterally concludes that what the scholar is teaching is in “serious violation of Chinese law” and can cause “serious damage to the image of China” etc., it can terminate the agreement and stop providing funding.
This means that the Dutch side has to accept the Chinese definition of “serious violation of Chinese law” and “serious damage to China’s image” in its entirety.
Engelshoven later wrote to the University of Groningen calling for cancellation of lectures on Chinese language and culture funded by the Hanban.
The lecture agreement signed with the Chinese professor had lapsed after both institutions’ contract expires in 2021. The University said it did not intend to continue working with the Chinese institute.