Chinese students
China is fast becoming a middle-class nation. Source: Saeed Khan/AFP

Recent reports from the UK detail how Chinese students are being “manipulated” by their embassy, with scammers threatening to take their UK visa taken away and in one case, even threatening eight months’ jail time.

In a Foreign Affairs Committee hearing earlier this week, UK academics describe how the Chinese Communist Party is exerting influence on UK universities via its citizens studying or working there, according to a Times Higher Education report. The Committee told MPs how China is a “special case” because of the “sheer number” of students in the UK.

The UK hosted 106,530 Chinese students in the 2017/18 academic year, representing the largest group of international students in the country.

One witness, Christopher Hughes, a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics, spoke about how there was “bullying and pressure”, which included seeing someone lose their position as head of a research centre “over clashes over funding from a certain state”.

He continued: “There is evidence that some parts of the student body are being manipulated and used by the [Chinese] embassy and their agents, and that this is organised.”

In another report by The Guardian, newly-arrived Chinese students have been made victims of scammers posing as the Chinese embassy and extorting them of huge sums of money up to £30,000. Preying on their fear of getting their UK study visas denied or revoked, these students were coerced to transfer huge sums of money to the scammers.

Into, a Brighton-based company that runs centres providing foundation courses for international students looking to study at universities in America and Britain, told the Observer: “We have had three instances this summer where students have answered the phone, given away their details, and lost their money.” The company has emailed students to warn them about the scam.

“These are significant amounts they are losing. They believe if they don’t pay the money they won’t get their visa, or get their visa taken away.”

In the case of 25-year-old Yihe Xiong, it was his freedom he lost after a local court sentenced him to eight months in prison for possession of an imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence. Shanghaiist reported that Xiong, who was studying for a master’s in computer science at the University of Exeter, had waved and pointed the replica firearm at other students in June this year.

He told other students he had “12 bullets in this pistol and if my presentation goes badly I’m going to start opening fire”. The stunt prompted the school to initiate an evacuation process with armed police sent into one building.

Xiong later said he was only “kidding”, but the local court judge was not amused, calling the incident a “calculated action of breathtaking stupidity”.

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