The open letter accuses the China Forum of not engaging with human rights issues in ChinaFelix Armstrong for Varsity

Students have criticised Jesus College China Forum’s treatment of the topic of the Uyghur community in a new open letter led by the Uyghur Rights Campaign.

The letter expresses “serious concern” with the conduct of Jesus College’s China Forum and its “treatment of the topic of China’s Uyghur minority” alongside “other ongoing human rights issues in China”.

Human rights groups allege that China has detained more than one million Uyghurs, mostly in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, with the US, among other countries, having accused the state of committing genocide.

The China Forum’s guests include Professor Hu Angang, a Chinese professor from Tsinghua University, whose academic work has “influenced” the ethnic policy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the letter alleges.

The petition was addressed to Sonita Alleyne, the Master of Jesus College, and was written by Nikos Kouthouri-Whittaker, a Chinese studies student and the co-chair of the Cambridge Uyghur Rights Campaign.

The China Forum is described on Jesus College’s website as aiming to “deepen mutual understanding between China and the West,” through “interdisciplinary seminars”.

The Uyghur Rights Campaign accuses the Forum of avoiding various controversies associated with the CCP, highlighting comments made by Professor Peter Nolan, the Forum’s Director, in 2021, where he cautioned against “one, homogeneous correct view of Xinjiang” and that “both views [should be] represented”.

A review by academics in 2020 highlighted concerns of the Forum’s “avoidance of controversial topics, such as the political situation in Hong Kong and the treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, in the China Centre’s seminar programme”.

The China Forum was restructured in August 2022 with a new name and increased transparency in funding to address concerns of academic freedom.

However, the letter claims that this restructure is a “whitewashing of the China Forum’s unwillingness to seriously engage with these issues”.

The China Forum invited Professor Hu Angang to an event in October 2023. He is a Professor of the School of Public Policy and Management and the Dean of the Institute for Contemporary China Studies at Tsinghua University.

He discussed his book, Modernization with Chinese Characteristics and Great Power, with a focus on the theme of “common prosperity”.

Angang has co-authored a paper, originally published in 2011, which claims: “Any nation’s long-term peace and stability is founded upon building a system with a unified race (a state-race) that strengthens the state-race identity and dilutes ethnic group identity”.

The letter alleges that the “ideas expressed in the paper have influenced the current ‘ethnic policy’ of the CCP, under which the Xinjiang atrocities have and continue to occur”.

Freedom of Information requests seen by Varsity revealed that “suggestions to hold a seminar related to the topic of Uyghurs have been made at least six times by members either of the Advisory Committee or Management Group”.

Freedom of Information requests seen by Varsity detail the Bursar's concerns about the cost associated with providing interpretation at any such events, but not those specifically related to Uyghur speakers.

The Uyghur Rights Campaign is demanding that the China Forum publish and adhere to a due diligence code, as well as establish regular, formal, and public channels of communication with students and fellows.


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Students attack University ‘silence’ over China Uyghur rights abuses

The Cambridge Uyghur Rights Campaign has previously criticised the University and the AMES Faculty for its silence toward China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims.

A spokesperson for Jesus College told Varsity: “The China Forum runs a highly-regarded scholarly seminar series that covers a huge range of topics and opinions, all overseen by a committee which includes students and independent academic experts. Jesus College and the China Forum remain strongly committed to academic freedom.”