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UNSW stands up to China student protest and admits it was wrong to remove pro-Hong Kong tweet

A university is now standing up to Chinese intimidation and admitting it was wrong to delete social media messages in support of harassed Hong Kong democracy campaigners.

University of New South Wales Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs has apologised to academic staff for the removal of a Tweet on the university’s account last Friday.

The tweet was promoting an article critical of the Chinese Communist Party, written by UNSW lecturer and Human Rights Watch Australia director Elaine Pearson.

‘That tweet should not have been removed,’ Prof. Jacobs said in an email.

‘I apologise for this mistake and reaffirm unequivocally our previous commitment  to freedom of expression and academic freedom.’

Prof. Jacobs’ explanation said the tweet was removed ‘after protests were received’ online by pro-China groups.

The Vice-Chancellor declared ‘we will not limit freedom of expression within the law simply because some find it offensive or challenging’.

Ms Pearson, an adjunct lecturer at UNSW, said Prof. Jacobs’ apology should have been distributed more broadly.

‘I am still puzzled why the UNSW VC’s statement and apology only went to staff,’ she said.

‘Why has it not gone to students?

‘Why not put it on UNSW’s website and share it through UNSW’s social media channels?’  

NSW Labor senator Tony Sheldon, a critic of China, echoed her call in a message to UNSW.

‘Your students, including international students, need to hear directly from university leadership that free academic inquiry and freedom of speech are for them too,’ he said.

As of Thursday afternoon, Ms Pearson’s original article wasn’t on UNSW’s Newsroom section of its website featuring analysis pieces from academics.

UNSW’s Twitter also failed to feature her deleted piece criticising the Chinese Communist Party’s crackdown on Hong Kong democracy campaigners, following the lightning passage of new national security laws in contravention of a 1984 agreement with the UK relating to the 1997 handover.

Shortly before her article was deleted, UNSW administrators and lecturers were bombarded with emails from Chinese international students protesting against the publication of Ms Pearson’s article.

The protests also circulated in social media chat groups. 

‘This article is full of ignorance and bias, which was likely to discriminate against China and its people,’ one email obtained by Daily Mail Australia said.

‘We have been severely offended.’ 

In one message, Haoxue Wang complained about Ms Pearson’s article titled: ‘China needs international pressure to end Hong Kong wrongs.’ 

‘This is totally unacceptable. As a Chinese law student, I request a formal investigation into this issue,’ the complaint said. 

Chinese students last year made up 68.8 per cent of international enrolments at the University of New South Wales, an analysis by the Centre for Independent Studies found.

As part of its so-called Wolf Warrior diplomacy, China’s ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye in April threatened a student boycott of Australian university education after Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne advocated an inquiry into the causes of COVID-19. 

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