China Defends Academic Freedom, in Norway

Reuters’ Sui-Lee Wee and Joseph Campbell report Chinese indignation at the expulsion from Norway of a Chinese PhD student:

Norwegian police had ordered the Chinese doctorate student working at the University of Agder to leave before Jan. 23, state news agency Xinhua said late on Tuesday. The student had been working on a wind-power project at the university for two years.

Xinhua cited Norwegian broadcasting company NRK as saying that Norwegian authorities made the decision out of fear the student’s expertise could be used “for military purposes in other countries”.

[…] “We think that the allegations are unfounded and violated the basic rights and interests of the relevant Chinese scholar,” Hong said. “It also undermines Norway’s academic image.”

Hong declined to respond directly when asked if the student was a spy, but called on Norway to “safeguard the legitimate rights of the relevant Chinese scholars and their academic freedoms”. [Source]

China’s response is entirely consistent with its ongoing diplomatic feud with Norway, but less so with its own treatment of foreign scholars or recent proposals to combat foreign “infiltration” of higher education. At China Real Time, Russell Leigh Moses ponders the latter’s underlying political calculus:

Upgrading China’s educational model had been one of the laudable goals of Xi’s since he took office, and the first two years of his own tenure saw widespread discussion in the state media about the shortcomings of the current system. But while educational reform is clearly one of the most challenging and closely watched in Chinese society, the government has taken very little sustained action.

Now, Xi seems content to allow political conservatives to resist reform, instead of urging restructuring and reorganizing schools and universities. It may be that he is firmly behind that resistance. Or the shift may just be part of Xi’s decision to achieve party reform through discipline. He may well see the hardline path as politically necessary in this instance, as it has been in others.

[…] Xi’s pledges to remake politics are admirable. But, as with other challenges, it’s difficult to see how much real reform in can occur when party hardliners seem to have persuaded Xi that the best way for China to leap forward is to step backward. [Source]