‘Use the past to serve the present,’ declares the website of the China Centre of Jesus College, Cambridge. It seems a sensible motto, until you know that it’s the first half of a maxim of Chairman Mao’s, and that the second half is ‘make the foreign serve China’.
The China Centre is directed by Professor Peter Nolan, a fellow of Jesus and an expert on China’s economy. In the 1980s, he studied China’s collective farms and edited a volume that referred to itself as ‘a preliminary attempt to construct a new socialist political-economic strategy for Britain’.
Nolan helped to advise Wen Jiabao, China’s former prime minister, on entry into the World Trade Organisation in 2001 and later appeared as an expert witness before the US Senate, arguing against a ‘strict insistence’ on ‘WTO rules in full’ for China. He ran workshops bringing together Chinese state-owned corporations and western multinationals. An influential communist scholar-official has credited him with a study of American defence companies, so that China can close the gap in military technology. Make the foreign serve China indeed.
When students mention the ethnic cleansing in Xinjiang, Nolan is quick to belittle them. The head of Jesus’s student union, Aurelio Petrucci, suggested in a 2020 meeting of the Jesus China Centre advisory committee that the CCP abuse of the Uighurs amounts to ‘cultural genocide’. Nolan’s response was heavy on sarcasm: ‘I would be grateful if you could give us maybe an hour’s lecture on Xinjiang, its history and the role of the Weiwu’ers [Mandarin for Uighurs].’ He then told Aurelio he should be ‘trained to think in a different way’.
One of the reasons Nolan feels so comfortable suggesting re-education programmes to students is that he has support from Sonita Alleyne, appointed Master of Jesus to some fanfare in 2019.
Nolan is a director-trustee of the Cambridge China Development Trust charity, which is effectively a training programme for Chinese officials, most often from the Chinese government. When asked during the same 2020 meeting whether anyone else at the college had been a trustee of Nolan’s charity, Alleyne’s response was: ‘I don’t think that has been the case.’ It later transpired that Alleyne herself had been — but, she says, she just forgot.
It’s a cosy set-up, the Cambridge China Development Trust. In charge of ‘disseminating the results’ is Liu Chunhang, an ex-student of Nolan’s, who’s also married to Wen Ruchun, the daughter of Nolan’s friend Wen Jiabao. In 2014, Wen Ruchun gave £3.7 million to Cambridge for a new professorship fund and requested that Nolan be the inaugural professor. The fund now contains more than £7.3 million. Prior to her donation, Wen was implicated in JP Morgan’s scheme to hire the children of CCP elites in return for contracts. The bank was fined nearly $300 million.
Nolan’s trust boasts that the CCP’s Central Organisation Department values his organisation highly, awarding it an overall mark of 99.09 per cent, ‘higher than any other training programme in the history of the Department’. They consider that it ‘plays a vital role in China’s interaction with global business’. One alumnus was made minister at the CCP’s United Front Work Department, which infiltrates politics and business worldwide. The excellence of Nolan’s programme perhaps explains his appointment in 2012 to our government’s Asia Task Force.
The more you read about the Cambridge China Development Trust, the easier it is to see how valuable it is to China. When Trust delegations meet ministers at the Foreign Office, for instance, does that have to be publicly declared? It’s a charitable trust, after all, not a foreign government body.
Fellows at Cambridge are leading an independent review of the China Centre, and in the meantime students must continue to demand transparency. But there will be those who don’t like this. They will cry McCarthy, or like Alleyne, complain of ‘a political atmosphere which is basically coming from America’ — as if the Uighurs and the streams of Britons fleeing Hong Kong simply did not exist.