China’s long march through Western universities is finally getting attention

Edward Lucas


This story, originally published as a weekly newsletter, is a result of partnership between CEPA and Coda Story. You can sign up here.

Shows and no-shows at the Beijing Winter Olympics will be a big test of the party-state’s ability to withstand international censure. This week Nancy Pelosi called for a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics due to concerns over human rights. In Europe, the Czech Senate is planning to vote on a boycott soon (China is already cross) and German opinion is shifting too — watch this grueling video about rape and torture in China’s gulag, and the international sporting establishment’s hypocrisy about it. As we reported last week, commercial sponsors are also squirming. 

China may find the Arctic Council summit in Reykjavik a little chilly. The Nordic and Baltic countries are in the forefront of Western concern about Chinese human rights abuses.  Denmark just got a pat on the back from the US for its China-countering military build-up in Greenland. But the party-state’s much-hyped interest in the northern “Polar Silk Road” has waned: as Tony Barber notes in the FT, the sea is too shallow for big container ships, and Russia charges too much for navigation and ice-breaking. 

The human rights committee of Germany’s Bundestag held hearings on the plight of Uyghurs and other minorities on Monday. That prompted a tirade from the embassy, laden with pointed but scarcely relevant references to Germany’s Nazi past.  Ambassador Wu Ken abruptly canceled a meeting with German lawmakers planned for Thursday. For this display of how to win friends and influence people, the comrades in Berlin walk off with this week’s Wolf Warrior Award.


China’s long march through Western universities is finally getting attention.

  • In Germany there’s increased scrutiny of the finances and activity of the Confucius Institute at the Free University in Berlin.
  • Austrian media is asking why its counterpart in Vienna has quasi-official status (teaching Chinese to the military). 
  • In Switzerland students at Zurich Arts School are protesting against its tie-up with Harbin Institute of Technology. 
  • Denmark’s worried about an Aarhus University nanotechnology researcher’s undisclosed ties to China (did you know about killer tadpole robots? Neither did we). 

But British universities (35 of them) are tightlipped about their thriving ties with Huawei. We asked Cambridge University — the stand-out hotspot of Chinese influence — to comment: no answer. 

And Hungary is pressing ahead with the new Fudan University campus, paid for by a €1.5 ($1.83) billion loan. Victor Orbán’s government is changing the law to foil Gergely Karácsony, the up-and-coming opposition mayor of Budapest, who wants to save the site for affordable student housing.

As investigative journalist Panyi Szabolcs reports, controversy also surrounds the colossal $250,000 salaries the Chinese newcomer will be offering —  ten times higher than those typically paid by Hungarian universities.


The New York Times investigation into Apple’s tainted operations and worries about how solar panels are made are just two examples of growing pushback on ties with China. 

Germany’s new supply-chain law means companies will have to pull out of Xinjiang or face fines for using products made by slave labor there, following an assessment by the parliamentary research service.

And in Italy, concerns are growing about:

  • the party-state’s de facto stake in the Inter soccer team.
  • police dependence on Chinese tech. 
  • Hikvision’s CCTV systems, which even on supposedly closed networks seem to send data back to China.

But in poorer countries, China crunches forward. Huawei’s doing fine in Africa, Asia and Latin America, says a new CSIS report, showcased in the Financial Times. Zoran Zaev, prime minister of North Macedonia, says footdragging means the EU is losing ground in the Western Balkans. A new study by Unicredit highlights that region’s debt burden.

Russia and China are far from being allies, but they are cooperating more. In March they agreed to build a joint lunar space station. Now comes news of a nuclear power project: four new reactors using Russian technology.

What we’re reading:

  • This poignant open letter to his (ex-) editors by the dissident legal scholar Xu Zhangrun. Next time someone mentions “cancel culture”, get them to read this “agonized farewell” to the great man’s former life — and hopes of reform.
  • On similar lines: Andreas Fulda’s thought-provoking Twitter thread on how Chinese censorship works.
  • The great Anne-Marie Brady explains New Zealand’s belated awakening towards the Chinese threat, backed by an unprecedented public warning from the country’s intelligence service.
  • Bloomberg’s discovered the Three Seas Initiative — the West’s answer to the 17+1. Dollops of cash have been promised for connectivity between the Adriatic, Baltic and Black Sea regions; it should be oodles, writes Andreas Kluth.  
  • Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian’s Axios newsletter has a meaty take on clashing Western and Chinese approaches to anti-trust policy. 

What we’re watching: Congressional hearings on Chinese influence in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

Isobel Cockerell, Makuna Berkatsashvili, Mariam Kiparoidze, Oleksandr Ignatenko and Mariia Pankova of Coda Story, and Michael Newton of CEPA contributed to this newsletter. Curated and written by Edward Lucas, China Influence Monitor is a collaboration between CEPA and Coda Story. Sign up here to get it straight in your inbox every Thursday morning.