Charles Moore

Britain’s universities are confounded by China

Britain's universities are confounded by China
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'Tencent Wykeham’ has a ring to it. It captures how easily British universities can be bought. It is the new name for what was until now the Wykeham Professorship of Physics at New College, Oxford, now acquired by the huge Chinese techno-conglomerate Tencent for £700,000. 

William of Wykeham founded New College and Winchester in the 14th century. ‘Tencent Winchester’ next? The problem, which Oxford seems to ignore, is that Tencent acts for the national security interests of the Chinese Communist party. It propagandises too: for Xi Jinping’s address to the 19th Party Congress in 2017, it brought out a mobile game called ‘Clap for Xi Jinping: An Awesome Speech’. 

Our universities seem utterly confused about relationships with China, which is not wholly their fault, since the Cameron ‘Golden Era’ of uncritical adulation is still recent. But they have been so slow to develop a coherent approach. It is not that proper academic contacts should be banned: real learning takes place in both countries. It is that there is no basis of trust. Our universities need to understand that China spies on its own students abroad, steals secrets, by professional espionage and informal means, from research here, and skews British university work to cast the CCP in a favourable light, as with the China Centre and Dialogue Centre at Jesus College, Cambridge. There is little due diligence, and therefore no confidence. 

A small example, this week. King’s, Cambridge now has three research fellowships to study the history of the Silk Roads. A respectable subject, but the project must require a lot of money and King’s will not reveal the donor’s name. Given that China uses the Silk Roads for soft promotion of its imperial Belt and Road Initiative, one needs to know who is paying and what terms he demands for doing so.

This is an extract from Charles Moore's Spectator Notes. Click here to read the whole piece.