World

China's 'useful idiots' keep their honours

31 January 2022

11:36 PM

31 January 2022

11:36 PM

Ministers like to talk a good game on China. But, as the Commons witnessed just two weeks ago, all too often there’s a very different reality when it comes to calling out Beijing’s abuses. After the Foreign Office declined to describe China’s atrocities in Xinjiang as ‘genocide,’ now it’s time for the Department for Education to turn the other cheek. For universities minister Michelle Donelan has ducked the chance to call on Britain’s seats of learning to cut their ties with apparatchiks of the communist regime.

Steerpike spotted last week that Tory grandee Sir Iain Duncan Smith had tabled a question, inviting universities minister Michelle Donelan to tell the House what representations to UK universities have been made about the honorary doctorates and awards given to members of the Hong Kong government. This is in light of the ongoing democracy clampdown and the repeated breaches of the Sino-British Declaration there.

Sadly Donelan ducked the chance to call out the universities still white-washing (or should that be gown-washing?) the reputations of Beijing’s enablers. She admitted that her department has not made any such representations ‘in the context as described,’ claiming in a mealy-mouthed reply that ‘we continue to recommend that university due diligence processes… should consider reputational, ethical and security risks.’ The minister concluded ‘it is for universities as autonomous institutions to make their own judgement calls,’ citing academic independence as the reason why no representations have been made.


Fortunately, no such restraints exist on Mr S calling out the universities who still honour Hong Kong’s government. On the role of shame include Kings College London, which has refused to revoke an honorary fellowship for Teresa Cheng, the region’s justice secretary. Cheng has been sanctioned by the US government for her role in suppressing democratic rights in Hong Kong – something that apparently didn’t trouble the university enough to remove her honour. This is despite KCL bosses apologising last April to staff who complained at the university’s picture tribute commemorating the death of Prince Philip because of his ‘history of racist and sexist comments’.

Other high-ups still honoured include CY Leung, the former chief executive of Hong Kong, who holds an honorary doctorate from the University of the West England (UWE). The same institution has removed plaques dedicating a visit by Prince Andrew following his Newsnight interview but is (apparently) on board with recognising a man who compared pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong to Islamic terrorists and claims that ‘pushing the envelope of democracy too far’ emboldened ‘separatists.’

UWE has also given an honorary degree to Arthur Kwok Cheung Li,  a member of the Executive Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, alongside another from UCL. This charming chap is another functionary opposed to pro-democracy campaigners and who, supporting the removal of the ‘Pillar of Shame’ from Hong Kong University, claimed earlier this month that the statue was a lie and not erected to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Laughably, the UCL blurb to mark his award claims ‘he is noted for his defence of academic freedom.’

Luke de Pulford, who works with Sir Iain on the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, said:

It’s plainly hypocritical to debate removing statues of historic perpetrators of slavery while rolling out the red carpet for Beijing’s useful idiots in Hong Kong. These are the very people who bear responsibility for Hong Kong’s dire state. The UK has treaty commitments to the people of Hong Kong which are not well served by honouring their oppressors.

Worth remembering who such universities honour, the next time they get on their soapbox about their values.

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