In recent weeks, the United Kingdom’s Cambridge University became embroiled in controversy when as a professor who has deep ties with China discouraged students from discussing the ongoing suffering of Uyghur Muslims.
The professor is Peter Nolan, director of the China Center at Jesus College, part of the University of Cambridge. According to the transcript obtained by Open Democracy, during a meeting in November 2020, Nolan advised students to avoid open discussion about the Chinese government’s human rights violations against Uyghurs because such discussion would lead to “unhelpful” and “contentious” outcomes.
In response to China’s treatment of Uyghurs, Nolan claimed the Chinese government is facing challenges that “all countries that have any kind of minority at all” have faced, and added that there is no “homogeneous, correct view of what is happening in Xinjiang.”
Nolan also discouraged any discussion about Hong Kong because he thought such discussions might offend students from the Chinese mainland. In addition, he worried the college would be “perceived as being a campaigning college for freedom for Hong Kong, freedom for the Uyghurs” if it provides platforms for people who have strong views about China without having someone to present counter viewpoints at the same time.
The most outrageous of Nolan’s comments was his accusation that the World Uyghur Association, a human rights organization for Uyghur Muslims, was financed by the U.S. Congress, and that “its purpose is regime change in China and other parts of the world. So that what you regard in the media as self-evidently true is actually a much more complicated question.”
Following the Money
Since he has deep personal and financial ties with the Chinese government, no one should be surprised that Nolan sounded like a Chinese government apologist.
Nolan’s bio states he has spoken at the Chinese government’s annual China Development Forum since its inception in 2000. Nolan also previously served as the founding director and Chong Hua Chair at the Cambridge University’s Center of Development Studies.
The Chong Hua Foundation, a Chinese charity registered in Bermuda with no website and wrapped in secrecy, funded the chair position with a £3.7 million endowment.
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