by Mckenna Dallmeyer
A Chinese student attending a Canadian university is currently facing repercussions from the Chinese government for his criticism of the regime on Twitter.
Experts tell Campus Reform that the same thing has happened in the United States.
As the Toronto Star reported last week, the student retweeted three posts while in Canada: “the news that Nobel laureate and Chinese democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo had died, a short satirical video about President Xi Jinping, and a chart on levels of Chinese government corruption.”
Months later, he received a call from his father who asked if he posted something about the Chinese government on the internet. “The public security bureau called us twice,” his father, per the Canadian outlet’s reporting.
Soon after, the student was contacted by a Chinese police officer via the WeChat social media app.
“The police told me the Ministry of Public Security (China’s internal policing department) tracked me by my IP address and knows where I live in Canada. They have evidence the Twitter account belongs to me,” the student told The Star.
The student claims he was never informed of what crime he committed or which Chinese internet regulation he violated.
The student decided to report the situation to the Quebec police. However, to his dismay, they replied that they have no jurisdiction over the activities that happen in China.
The United Front Work Department is a member of China’s public security bureaus. Its purpose is to ensure business professionals and overseas Chinese students act in keeping with Chinese Communist Party objectives.
In 2016, a new unit called the New Social Classes Work Bureau was announced, according to the South China Morning Post. This bureau not only focuses on returning overseas Chinese students, but also lawyers, making this student a prime target of the bureau.
Responding to the officer ordering him to delete the CCP related posts, the student asked what would happen if he never accepted responsibility for the Twitter account.
“You will face trouble,” the officer replied.
According to The Star, “trouble” is a term in China that indirectly refers to state persecution, ranging from “repeated visits and phone calls all the way to travel bans, rejection for jobs and house arrest.”
Ultimately, the student deleted the retweets criticizing the Chinese government and was left wondering how a free country such as Canada cannot protect him.
Campus Reform spoke with James Giordano, a Georgetown University professor and executive director of the Institute for Bio Defense Research in Washington D.C., to glean more insight into this international situation.
Giordano told Campus Reform that this type of harassment by China can “absolutely” occur in the United States.
Giordano explained that the student would most likely experience “implicit or tacit” “harassment” from the CCP rather than “overtly.”
The CCP uses that approach because it “needs to operate under the radar for the simple reason being that that would be very, very overt demonstration of CCP direct influence and execution of activities within the continental United States,” he explained.
Giordano proposed that “familial harassment” is “absolutely” a possibility.
Since “family is part of the collective,” criticizing the governmental regime does a “disservice” to families.
“The justification from the Chinese point of view is well, you disservice your family, your family is part of the collective, the collective is part of the culture, the current culture is the CCP, ergo, they get what they deserve,” Giordano said.
Explaining why this is “justified” and not “retributional” to the family unit from the Chinese point of view, Giordano pointed to its “collectivistic culture.”
“The culture supports the collective and a collectivistic culture. And at present, that culture in that collective is the CCP, therefore anything that affronts the CCP represents a cultural affront, and therefore, is contrary to the ethos and responsibilities of the collective of which your family happens to be a part,” he said.
“They no longer have earned the respect of the collective because of the shame brought upon them by their child,” Giordano continued.
Campus Reform also spoke with University of Miami political science professor June Dreyer to ask if this scenario could ever play out in the United States.
June Dreyer replied in the affirmative, stating that this type of harassment by the Chinese government on students studying in the United States already has happened.
“It could happen and did,” she said.
Citing an example, Dreyer pointed to a “much-publicized incident” where a “Duke student who expressed sympathy for the Tibetans was not only harassed herself, but so was her family back in China.”
National Public Radio reported the story in 2008, a Duke University student tried to mediate an on-campus exchange regarding the Tibetan independence movement and was met with fierce attacks from people in China.
The student’s family who lived in China at the time was also forced to go into hiding because of the threats, according to the article.
“There may be many more cases in the US that don’t get publicized,” Dreyer added. “A number of instances have been reported from Australia.”
Similarly, in 2017, Chinese undergraduate student Shuping Yang was met with scrutiny after praising freedom of speech and democracy in her commencement speech for the University of Maryland’s graduation ceremony.
Yang received international backlash from the pro-government Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) and the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, The People’s Daily.
The CSSA produced a video called “#Proud of China UMD” that alleged that Yang’s speech included “false statements and rumor” as well as “stereotypical comments.”
The University of Maryland stood by its decision and defended Yang by issuing a statement of support according to BBC News.
“Respectfully engaging with those whom we disagree are essential skills, both within university walls and beyond,” the statement read.
Yang issued an apology on Chinese social media platform Weibo, admitting she was “surprised and disturbed” by people’s reaction to her speech and “deeply loved” her homeland.
“I apologize, and sincerely hope everyone can forgive me. I have learned my lesson,” she wrote.
“It looks like even if Chinese people go to America, they still can’t have freedom of speech,” one commenter said on Weibo.
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McKenna Dallmeyer is a Virginia and Texas Senior Campus Correspondent, reporting on liberal bias and abuse for Campus Reform. She is a Senior studying Cybersecurity at Liberty University. McKenna was the Deputy Communications Director for a congressional campaign in Iowa. She previously attended Texas A&M where she was the Founder and President of Young Women for America and Events Coordinator for TPUSA.
Photo “Communist Party Headquarters, Beijing” by Squiggle. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.