There are almost 100,000 mainland Chinese students studying at Australian universities, where they are no doubt exposed to ideas that might be censored at home. This fact has not gone unnoticed by Chinese intelligence professionals, some of whom have admitted to a reporter for the respected Sydney Morning Herald that they recruit networks of students to monitor the Chinese community.
Officially, education counselors at the Chinese embassy organize student associations in order to provide support services that may be lacking at Australian universities for overseas students. These associations provide help and a sense of community for Chinese students, but they also provide a network to gather human intelligence and monitor their citizens’ activities.
In particular, Beijing wants to keep tabs on any anti-authoritarian movements and groups related to Tibet and Falun Gong.
Some students have said they faced negative repercussions based on reports made to the student association. After he attended a lecture by the Dalai Lama, one student’s parents back home were contacted and told to reign their son in. Others have reported that comments they made in classroom discussions were reported to officials, causing repercussions.
And it isn’t just the students, either. A Chinese lecturer at a major university was questioned four times by intelligence services when he returned to China regarding comments he made at a democracy seminar at the University of New South Wales. He was shown the report, made by a woman also making false claims that he had donated money to democracy organizations.
Singapore’s Straits Times published a piece at the same time claiming the Chinese government uses student organizations to spread patriotic feelings and to monitor any latent anti-government movements. According to that article, during the 2008 Olympic torch replay in Canberra, the organizations brought Chinese students in from as far away as Sydney to hold a counter-protest against Tibet supporters.
The Chinese government denies that their is any intelligence purpose to the student organizations.
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