Beijing-tied student group banned from Canada’s McMaster University

McMaster University in Canada. (Photo courtesy: McMaster University)

(, Oct05’19) – After Confucius Institutes, it could be the turn of the Chinese Students and Scholars Associations (CSSA) to face backlash from university bodies and even governments for carrying out the Chinese government’s censorship and political campaigns on the campuses of Western countries. A student union at Canada’s McMaster University has on Sep 22 revoked permission for a CSSA to operate on campus due to its links to the Beijing government, reported Oct 4.

The report said the Student Representative Assembly (SRA) of Canada’s McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario, was responding to reports earlier this year that the CSSA disrupted a talk on campus by an Uighur activist at an event organised by students. SRA was reported to have voted to ‘de-ratify’ the CSSA as a club allowed to operate on campus, with the revocation coming into immediate effect.

Also in Feb 2019 elsewhere, Chemi Lhamo, a University of Toronto Scarborough student of Tibetan ethnicity, was harassed and threatened with physical harm after being elected president of the student union because she had spoken out against the Chinese regime’s abuses in Tibet. Some Chinese students organised a petition calling on her to step down, amassing some 10,000 signatures. The Chinese embassy expressed support for the students’ action and its involvement was strongly suspected.

“All students wishing to form a club agree to a specific set of rules regarding the conduct as a club,” Joshua Marando, the university’s student union president was quoted as saying in a statement the week before. “It was the determination of the SRA that CSSA had violated those rules.”

The report noted that the CSSA was operating on hundreds of university campuses around the world, often with the backing of Chinese embassies or consulates.

Amid rising campus tensions between some mainland Chinese students and supporters of Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang, disruptions had been reported at universities in the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Ireland, France and the Netherlands involving mainland Chinese students, the report said. Not all the Chinese students were stated to be ascribed to campus CSSAs.

Citing both academics and non-Chinese students, the report said that though originally set up as social clubs for mainland Chinese students, some CSSA groups were becoming more political, and were increasingly willing to aggressively promote the Communist Party line on overseas campuses. And they were stated to fear that such activities with the support or direction of Chinese officials could corrode free speech on campuses.

The CSSA at McMaster is said to describe itself as a “support network” for newly arrived Chinese students, assisting them in adapting to the cultural environment and organising social events. But union representatives were cited as saying their documented links with the Chinese consulate in Toronto raised questions of Chinese government influence on universities abroad.

The report said the online profiles of several CSSAs in Canada, the US and elsewhere, such as the University of Toronto CSSA, indicated that they were set up “under the leadership” of the Chinese consulate.

The report cited a report last year on Chinese influence and American interests by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University as saying that CSSAs operate on some 150 US campuses and “maintain regular contact with China’s diplomatic missions in the US”.

“Even when these contacts are purely for cultural purposes, the CSSA provides a ready channel or entry point for the political departments of China’s embassy and consulates in the US to gather information and coordinate action, which in some cases includes pressuring the behaviour of Chinese students,” the report was quoted as saying.

The report noted that in 2017 the University of California San Diego (UCSD) faced protests from Chinese students after inviting the Dalai Lama to speak on campus, with academics voicing suspicions that the CSSA at UCSD was acting on guidance from the local Chinese consulate. It added that when the event finally took place as planned, the Chinese government retaliated by banning students and scholars with funding from the Chinese government’s China Scholarship Council from attending UCSD.


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