From business to academia and government, British institutions refuse to face the hard facts about China, writes Charles Moore.

This sequence epitomises the Chinese Communist Party in its dealings with the West in the era of Xi Jinping. Here is the blatant, brutal threat. Here is the almost equally blatant trick which seems to offer the hand of friendship. And here, I regret to say, is the third key component – a Western prominente who, for reasons of self-interest, takes China’s part.
In the old days, Communist regimes devoted great energy to winning converts in the West. The Soviet Union succeeded in recruiting some actual traitors and infiltrating trade unions. At the height of Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution in the Sixties, students were deluged with copies of his Little Red Book. Such propaganda had some effect: absolutism always attracts some people. But these efforts were what we nowadays call “clunky”. The Communists – especially the Chinese – were too cut off from us culturally. They were also very short of money.
By the 21st century, Chinese influence had become, one might say, pandemic. China opened up to the West and vice versa. People and businesses approved by the Chinese Communist Party started to come here in serious quantities – for tourism, study, investment, houses in London. There were many benefits for both sides. Many Western countries, however, suspended any sense of strategic vigilance. Under David Cameron and George Osborne, our government scrambled for contracts. Hence, of course, Huawei.
Universities, desperate for the much larger fees that can be charged to foreign students, sold their services to China. In 2012, for example, Cambridge University set up the Chong Hua chair in Chinese Development with £3.7 million from Wen Ruchun, the daughter of the super-rich then Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao. Peter Nolan, who had taught her at Cambridge, took up the professorship.
He had written a book with her husband, Liu Chunhang, a Chinese banking regulator. In the same year, Professor Nolan published a book called Is China Buying the World?, a question to which his short answer was “No”. But some said it had succeeded in buying a professorship at Cambridge. The Daily Telegraph exposed these connections.
Professor Nolan stepped down from the Chong Hua chair last year. It remains unfilled, perhaps because, if you want it, you must demonstrate a “research record of international stature in ‘global China’.” In recent months, the concept of “global China” has made millions of people feel sick.
Professor Nolan remains busy in Cambridge. Based in Jesus College, whose zeal for China’s “national rejuvenation” is expressed on their website (see this column, April 18), he runs the Cambridge China Executive Leadership Programme, which brings leaders of the top 100 Chinese state-owned enterprises to Cambridge. Over many years, Professor Nolan has developed the argument that China, under its present regime is “ethically driven”, with a “tradition of positive sum thinking”. He praises President Xi for his view of China’s relationship with other nations as “the harmony of civilisations”. “In the sharpest contrast to the European powers and their successors [ie, the USA]”, asserts Prof Nolan, China “did not seek to construct an overseas empire.”
In a speech to Peking University last year, the current Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge, Stephen Toope, praised Professor Nolan’s work. He declared that the China Development Forum’s theme of “Greater Opening Up for Win-Win Cooperation””thrilled” him. China and Cambridge are on the same side, he said, wanting openness rather than “angry isolation”, and a “global society” against those who wish to “divide and conquer”. These divisive conquerors were unnamed; but Professor Toope’s openness to the Chinese Communist Party contrasts with his attitude to Brexit. Last year, his university prevented contributions in favour of Brexit on its website while allowing numerous anti-Brexit ones.
Some universities are held hostage by the campuses they have opened in China itself
Stephen Tsang, Professor of Chinese Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies
In the professors’ speeches on China, I cannot find the phrase “academic freedom”, perhaps because China permits no such thing. Chinese universities are controlled by the Communist Party. Chinese influence and money threaten academic freedom here in Britain. Scared of Chinese displeasure, otherwise reputable universities try to prevent speakers on campus who criticise the Chinese government. Members of their academic bodies are sometimes controlled by the Chinese embassy in London. I am told by dons that Chinese students nowadays shut up in the presence of other Chinese students, because each fears the other will report them to the embassy.
I spoke yesterday to Stephen Tsang, Professor of Chinese Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies. China’s obsession with control, he says, is an eternal problem. The question is how we face it: “The real issue is when British universities do not defend their own intellectual freedoms.””Self-censorship” is rife. Some universities are held hostage by the campuses they have opened in China itself.
This week a reader sent me a strange message put out by the Peking University HSBC Business School. Although it perches in Boars Hill, near Oxford, it announced that it was proudly donating “1,000 pieces of PPE clothing, 300 protective medical goggles, and batches of test kits to Cambridge University Hospitals”. The message lauds Professor Toope for all the deals he has done with Peking University. Then the dean of the business school praises his own gift: Cambridge “really needs help” and a “friend in need is a friend indeed”.
A friend indeed? It seems an odd phrase for a system of governmental, scientific and intellectual control whose secretiveness and mendacity have created the most sudden and widespread health crisis in history. Our politicians, professors and businessmen need to realise that the West has been insulted. Trust has succumbed to the disease. It cannot be restored by the gift of a few thousand (malfunctioning) face-masks. An international inquiry is a necessary start, yet our Government shies away from calling for one.
The Telegraph London