If academic freedom in China is not guaranteed, should we collaborate? (Photo: Wikipedia))
If academic freedom in China is not guaranteed, should we collaborate? (Photo: Wikipedia)

Is it dangerous or does it hold opportunities? The government is still contemplating a unified point of view on cooperating with China in the field of research and education.

Lees in het Nederlands

Now that China is becoming a more powerful force on the world stage and its totalitarian regime is putting the screws to its critics, opposing voices around the world are wondering what the effects will be on collaborations in the field of education and research.

Countries including the United States and Denmark are closing their Confucius Institutes; offices for teaching and research set up by China all over the world, not unlike Germany’s Goethe Institutes.

Silencing
Here in the Netherlands, the Clingendael Institute recently warned of censorship and Chinese influence on Dutch higher education and research. In China, the government is actively silencing its critics. Academic freedom is also at stake.

This leaves politicians here in the Netherlands scratching their heads: what do we do now? The CDA party asked Parliamentary Questions about the Clingendael report. If academic freedom in China is not guaranteed, are collaborations even possible?

“I have no authority in regards to the anchoring of academic freedom in Chinese society”, the Minister noted in her answers. “The fact that the situation in China is different from the situation in the Netherlands is something Dutch institutions should take into account and keep in mind when cooperating with Chinese partners.”

Sticking points
Is it true that scientists are afraid to bring up political sticking points when they work with the Chinese, meaning they are effectively censoring themselves? The Minister does not want to say anything on this matter at present, but offers a more nuanced statement: “There is an important dividing line between courtesy and self-censorship”.

This way she can stave off further questions for now. We will find out more come autumn, when she plans to inform the House of Representatives about the government’s new position on China.

 HOP, Bas Belleman