Top Australian diplomat tells Chinese students to respect free speech
Gagging university professors is hardly the point of education. Source: Shutterstock

Remember when an Australian university had to apologise to its international Chinese students for describing Taiwan as separate country? Or for a lecturer showing a map showing Chinese-claimed territory as part of India?

The Chinese consulate in Australia later got involved, leading to a big debate as to how far overseas universities should or should not tailor to China’s Communist Party orthodoxy, regardless of how “offensive” it may be to nationalist Chinese students?

Well, a top Australia diplomat has joined the debate. And she’s taking free speech’s side.

In a lecture for international students at the University of Adelaide’s Confucius Institute last weekend, Frances Adamson, Australia’s chief foreign affairs bureaucrat, called for free and respectful debate in university classrooms. Any stifling of free speech by students from all countries will be an “affront to our values”.

“No doubt, there will be times when you encounter things which to you are unusual, unsettling, or perhaps, seem plain wrong,” Adamson said, as reported by Straits Times.

“When you do, let me encourage you not to silently withdraw or blindly condemn, but to respectfully engage. The silencing of anyone in our society – from students to lecturers to politicians – is an affront to our values.”

The Straits Times noted that the remarks appear to be aimed at China as Adamson’s statements follow at least four incidents in recent months where Chinese students and diplomats seem to be exerting influence over Australian academia for using teaching material deemed offensive to China.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham yesterday endorsed Adamson’s remarks, saying students should think critically, according to the BBC.

“Every student should be challenged when they are at university. They should have their thinking challenged, and they should find it a challenging experience.”

Birmingham also called on universities to uphold academic integrity.

“Universities need to be as ever vigilant today as they have been through their history in terms of ensuring their integrity, their high standing, their delivery of quality education and I am confident that they are doing that, they are challenging the students who come to them, whatever the background of those students,” Birmingham told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

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