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The Dutch do not need to fear China or Chinese people living in Delft and in the Netherlands. Instead, just talk to each other, says Xiaoming Mark Ma, a Marine Technology student. He wants to stop prejudice.

I was truly shocked when I read an article on the Delta website which fuels prejudice against China and the overseas Chinese. The author writes about 'the long arm' of China, stating that the influence of China on Chinese citizens overseas should be feared. I would like to share some of my own experiences in the Netherlands to help get a better understanding of China, and to try to erase unnecessary fear or prejudice.

The Delta article was in response to another article on an Australian website which misinterpreted the Chinese word 'Ruan Shi Li/软实力', which it translated as 'soft power'. The author used this term as evidence to support the idea that "China is trying to control the overseas Chinese or trying to influence other countries". However, the true meaning of Ruan Shi Li/软实力is simply the ability to shape the preferences of others through appeal and attraction.

One simple example are overseas Chinese who sponsor events like the Chinese New Year Festival where students and citizens can eat Chinese food and watch Chinese performances. I have given Taiji performances several times during these kinds of events. By the way, the food is pretty delicious and, more importantly for the Dutch, it is free!

You see, as a Chinese student in the Netherlands, I have already learned a lot about Dutch culture and society through my rugby team mates at SRC Thor, my classmates and my colleagues. However, I just realised that Dutch people know little about China. Their main impression comes from their own imagination and websites with negative news about China. One of my rugby teammates told me that the Dutch website Dumpert contains many negative videos about China. But if China is such a bad place, I said, how come I had the opportunity to be here playing rugby with you? I grew up in China too and it has some wonderful aspects!

Just imagine if Dutch academic institutions would stop accepting foreign students to programmes like Marine Technology

In the Delta article, China expert Frank Pieke said that the Dutch authorities should better screen foreign students who want to study majors which could be used for military purposes. Actually, if Pieke knew the current education system, he would not say something like this. Every sensitive research team only accepts Dutch students. If he keeps saying these things, foreign students may start feeling unwelcome.

My major is Marine Technology, which covers naval ship design, submarine design and so on. During an excursion to the naval base in Den Helder, all the non-NATO students were refused entry to the naval ships. Instead, we had to visit a museum.

Just imagine if an article like Pieke's would influence more Dutch people and they would stop accepting foreign students to programmes like Marine Technology; the bottom line is that academic institutions like the TU Delft would lose a lot of tuition fees. Furthermore, a lot of Dutch maritime companies would lose potentially brilliant employees, eventually resulting in many potential business collaborations lying dormant as communications would come to a halt. This would have serious knock-on effects on other sectors in society.

I know a lot of brilliant Chinese people who studied here and then worked in the Netherlands. Some of them even created corporations, doing business between China and the Netherlands. I worked for a Dutch company in Rotterdam which imports lifeboats from China and sells them to shipowners all over the world, and I pay tax to the Dutch government. China is a node in the world chain, just like the Netherlands. I am currently working for IHC IQIP, which is part of Royal IHC. This company also has Chinese suppliers and clients.

Last but not least, I know hundreds of Chinese students in Delft. And I truly do not know of any who are pressured or strictly controlled by China. Stop imaging China as a weird place. Just approach any Chinese student around you and ask them about anything modern in China. You will then hear that we have much faster and better trains than the NS! Maybe someday you will come to me and say "Hey, I saw some cool stuff about China! Let me show you."

The Netherlands does not need to be afraid of the Chinese or China. The long arm of China may reach far, but instead of fighting, it is shaking hands and making our world better.

Xiaoming Mark Ma

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