Documents released under the Official Information Act reveal the China Consulate tried to pressure AUT into shutting down a Tiananmen Square protest.
The documents – a series of emails exchanged between various university staff members, and China Consulate Vice-Consul General Xiao Yewen – were released at the beginning of the month. The email chain begins with the Head of the Vice-Chancellor’s office informing other staff members of a proposed meeting between the China Consulate and AUT Vice-Chancellor Derek McCormack. A series of emails are exchanged between staff members who express concern over what the meeting will entail. Staff attempt to speak to the consulate over the phone, to ascertain what the meeting is about, but they report the consulate is “tight-lipped” on what they wish speak to about.
Eventually, McCormack decides to meet with Yewen. Following the meeting, Yewen sends an email to the Vice-Chancellor’s office indicating the pair discussed shutting-down a Tiananmen Square protest set to be held at AUT. “As a diplomat, I fully understand and respect the basic values such as freedom of speech and assembly; which however have nothing to do with the political agenda of certain forces attempting to change the political system of China,” Yewen says, “”The Consulate General wishes to be in close collaboration with you to work together to ensure the smooth growth of cooperation and exchanges between AUT and China”.
Eventually, the issue is resolved when Vice-Chancellor McCormack appears to discover the room had not been booked correctly. McCormack replies to Yewen, saying he has decided not to hold the event – but only because of the incorrect venue booking. “Happily, on this instance your concerns and ours coincided, and the event did not proceed at the university,” McCormak says. “Nevertheless, I would like to take this opportunity to re-affirm that not only in the University, where academic freedom is taken very seriously, but also in New Zealand at large, freedom of speech and assembly are held as core democratic principles and fundamental values of our society. In all matters within New Zealand’s jurisdiction these freedoms must continue to be amongst our primary considerations as a public institution”.
This is not the first time the consulate has attempted to block university events it sees as damaging to China’s reputation. Last year, the consulate approached AUT and the University of Auckland over their plans to screen a documentary critical of China’s Confucius Institute. AUT screened the film despite the pressure, but the University of Auckland decided not to, citing logistics issues.
Craccum has asked the University of Auckland to release under the Official Information Act any communications the university has received from the China Consulate this year. The university has not yet responded to the request.