Universities aim to protect Hong Kong debate

US college students could be at risk of arrest if their homeland is China, their views are pro-Western, and their classroom identities are not protected.

Chinese students face possible repercussions by the Chinese government for voicing or even hinting at support for political demonstrations in Hong Kong. However, students have been finding clever ways to protect their identities. (Photo by Natasha Colburn)

Top American universities have undergone safety measures to protect Chinese students if they share Western views in their academic work, according to The Wall Street Journal. At Princeton University, for example, “students in a Chinese political class will use codes instead of names on their work to protect their identities,” the Journal reported.

WSJ: China’s National-Security Law Reaches Into Harvard, Princeton Classrooms

Hong Kong saw pro-democracy protests in 2019 and 2020. The civil unrest prompted the passing of a national security law by the People’s Republic of China. The legislation was designed to better control anti-government speech and demonstrations.

This law has caused concern for Chinese students in the United States, as they could potentially be punished or arrested upon their return to China under this new law.

At UVU, the Chinese student population is currently between 100 and 150 students. Steve Crook, director of International Student Services, said that all immigration information is secure, but that they don’t dictate how students turn in assignments to protect their identity or otherwise.

Alex Yuan, assistant professor and program coordinator of UVU’s Chinese Studies program, added that “we are teaching Chinese language and culture classes and strictly follow the pertinent UVU policies of learning and teaching.”

One international UVU student from China, who asked to remain anonymous, has mixed feelings about the protests. 

“I’m from mainland China,” the UVU student said. “I see things differently. Hong Kong people see Chinese culture and Western culture at the same time.”

The student does not support the Hong Kong protests, but knows people who do.

“Some people are asking for the right thing, but some are just following the flow [because] there’s a chance to go to the street and do something,” said the student. 

At UVU and in the United States, expressing anti-government views about one’s own country is commonplace and constitutionally protected. But in China, such speech might be considered “subversion – undermining the power or authority of the central government,” according to BBC News. “People suspected of breaking the [new] law can be wire-tapped and put under surveillance” the BBC said, and those convicted could face a “maximum sentence of life in prison.”

According to the US State Department’s China Travel Advisory, “the new legislation also covers offenses committed by non-Hong Kong residents or organizations outside of Hong Kong, which could subject U.S. citizens who have been publicly critical of the PRC to a heightened risk of arrest, detention, expulsion, or prosecution.”

In the academic environment accelerated online by the coronavirus pandemic, UVU students could be at risk if their homeland is China, their views are pro-Western, and their classroom identities are not protected. 

BBC: Hong Kong security law: What is it and is it worrying?

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