Jesus College has defended the Centre's links with China by stating it served to further "mutual understanding between China and the West"Rosie Bradbury

The Jesus College Student Union (JCSU) sent a letter yesterday (09/07) to Jesus Master Sonita Alleyne expressing concern around the College’s UK-China Global Issues Dialogue Centre (UKCC) just a day before the Times revealed that it had received a £155,000 donation from the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei and £200,000 from ‘agency that is part of China's State Council” in the past two years. 

The Times article refers to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted by the newspaper asking the College to reveal the size of a donation the UKCC received in September 2019 after concerns were raised around the publication of a white paper in conjunction with Huawei from the Centre in February 2020. 

The white paper, entitled ‘Multilateral Solutions for Global Governance of the Information and Communications Technology Industry’, led to accusations from an MP that the telecommunications company was “reputation laundering” through its connection to the College. Bob Seely, a member of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said he found it “deeply disturbing” the company had “been able to buy itself a publication endorsed by Cambridge University”. 

Although the Centre had previously declared Huawei as a funder of its operations, the size of the donation had not previously been made publicly available. The College confirmed to the Times that £155,000 had been received in September to "cover a two-year research co-operation" with Huawei.

The College also revealed, in response to the Times enquiry, that in September 2018 when the UKCC was established, the College received £200,000 from a body which is a part of the Chinese State Council. 

JCSU’s letter to the Master refers to both the UKCC and the China Centre, also found within the College. It states that  “the China Centre has already been a source of considerable negative press attention for College. Regardless of whether the attacks are completely justified, they hit on the three values which centres established in the College should uphold: financial transparency, academic freedom and political independence.” 

“As long as these values are not fully embodied by the China Centre, we will be liable to valid criticism from the press, students, alumni and fellows”, the letter affirms.

Jesus students yesterday (09/07) received an email from Alleyne which stated that she was writing “ahead of a story likely to be published in The Times about our China initiatives, namely the China Centre and the UK-China Global Issues Dialogue Centre” which “are run by College Fellows” with the aim of deepening “mutual understanding between China and the West.”

In regards to academic freedom, the JCSU letter refers to the white paper, and states that although it’s postscript stipulates conclusions were reached on the basis of “academic freedom” in “a report about internet regulation, the word ‘censorship’ appears zero times.” 

“The closest it comes to mentioning China in this context is the unbelievable statement that ‘China monitors content and decides what is available to society, because for the Chinese government social stability presents a higher value than competition’", it furthered. 

Under the heading of financial transparency, the letter refers to concerns from the student body around the donations received by the UKCC. It states, “until now, the Centre has not been fully financially transparent. Regardless of the actual situation, the China Centre would always have been at risk from the CCP’s [Chinese Communist Party] soft power information and influence campaigns, so it is clearly very important that its finance sources are made transparent.”

On this topic, Alleyne’s email describes that “a £150,000 two-year research and innovation agreement is currently in place between the Dialogue Centre and Huawei” with the aim of exploring“global telecommunications and technology development.”

Alleyne stresses “there is a clause enshrining academic freedom and free speech written into the research collaboration agreement. The Dialogue Centre owns all research results; Huawei cannot veto research findings, the publication of views or conclusions.”

Alleyne’s email makes no reference to the £200,000 donation from the Chinese State Council agency. 

The JSCU letter also references concerns around the political independence of the College's China Centre. The Centre’s Director, Professor Peter Nolan, received the position of chair,in a University appointment, in 2012 after a £3.7m donation from an unidentified “Chinese foundation” which led the Telegraph to report fears that “the pressure to raise funds may have it exposed it (to) backdoor diplomacy by Beijing”

It was later revealed in 2014, also by the Telegraph, that the charity behind the donation was in fact operated by family members of former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, including his daughter Wen Ruchun. 

Wen’s premiership has been previously criticised for its human rights record, which Amnesty International described in 2011 as ‘appalling’

The JCSU letter states that “Nolan’s defence of the CCP and its activities, as well as the defence of Huawei by figures associated with the China Centre, cast aspersions on whether the funding given to the China Centre is done on a ‘no strings attached’ basis.”

It furthers that the UKCC has not hosted events critical of the Chinese state, opining that “if the China Centre is politically independent, there is no reason why it would not run events on human rights abuses, Hong Kong, and Huawei data concerns.”

“The College should be much more aware of China’s covert influence campaign in British universities and should already have taken steps to ensure that such a campaign is not possible at Jesus.”

Alleyne’s letter describes that “the team [at the China Centre] organises seminars and workshops, hosting speakers with a wide array of views” pointing to talks on “the origins of complex society in China”, the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, Chinese foreign policy, critical artistic engagement with Mao Zedong, and Chinese porcelain. 

The JCSU letter finishes by voicing concerns about potential damage to the College’s reputation that the UKCC might cause . It highlights the College is “liable to charges of hypocrisy over our position on the environment and slavery. Jesus has divested from direct fossil fuel investments, yet our China Centre is holding supportive events about the Belt and Road Initiative which involves the construction of coal-fired power stations and coal mines. 

It further states that the Jesus College website called the Belt and Road Initiative “the new Silk Road, the road to sound, stable and honest business.” 

In regards to slavery, it furthers that the College “established the landmark LSWP [Legacy of Slavery Working Group] last year, and Jesus College clearly cares about and wants to address our links to historic slavery”. 

However, the letter alleges that “the forthcoming events page on the China Centre website shows an image of the [sic] BYD’s new battery factory in Qinghai” with “the ASPI [Australian Strategic Policy Institute] identif[ying] BYD as a company directly or indirectly benefiting from the use of the forced labour of Uyghur workers outside Xinjiang”. 

BYD are a large Chinese transport and battery manufacturer based in Shenzen which the ASPI allege are one of 83 foreign and Chinese companies to have benefited “directly or indirectly” from the forced use of Uyghur labour

Alleyne’s email further states that following her arrival as Master in October, she began reviews of how the College communicates it’s “activities and the status of historic collaborations” including “our connections with China, some of which date back many years. As you would expect, this work has been curtailed by the current pandemic but is set to continue in the coming academic year.”

The email also describes that the College is “cognizant of the rapidly changing situation in China, particularly in relation to human rights. At this crucial time, it is important that we as an academic institution remain committed to dialogue and intellectual discourse between China and the West.” 

JCSU further described this statement as  “ring[ing] alarm bells for any informed person on China” stressing that there is nothing new about China's human rights abuses and to act as otherwise erases the suffering of millions”.

In a statement to Varsity Jesus College chose not to reply to specific questions around concerns raised by the donations from the agency connected to China’s State Council and Huawei, as well as concerns around alleged contradictions between the College’s support for divestment and explorations of slavery legacies with UKCC’ and the China Centre's links with the Chinese state. 

Instead, the College stated that it has “open, regular dialogue with our students and welcome the opportunity to discuss their views. We have had a brief initial conversation with the JCSU President to discuss the concerns raised yesterday, and to address some inaccuracies. We are looking to arrange more in-depth discussions.”


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“We promote intellectual freedom and create space to criticise where we disagree and engage where we can. As an academic institution, we remain committed to dialogue and intellectual discourse between China and the West.”

“We are delighted to engage with all of our members including students, Fellows and alumni about events and activities arranged by College academic initiatives.”

In reference to UKCC’s paper with Huawei the statement reaffirmed that “there is a clause enshrining academic freedom and free speech written into the research collaboration agreement. The Dialogue Centre owns all research results; Huawei cannot veto research findings, the publication of views or conclusions.”

“The paper published by the Dialogue Centre resulted from discussions between 35 highly respected academics, companies, policy institutes and international organisations. Attendees included Andrew Mitchell MP, The Rt Hon Lord Willetts, Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the Deputy Director of Strategic Policy from GCHQ.”

“It was made very clear in the report that it was funded by Huawei, and we would like to reiterate that the company was in no way able to shape or veto the publication's research findings, views or conclusions.”

Edit note: This article was updated at on Saturday 11th July at 13.02 to change the headline from 'donation' to 'financial contribution and to dilineate betweej the UKCC and the China Centre'.