Content Note: This article contains a discussion of human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims
Professor Peter Nolan of Jesus College, who has financial ties to the former Chinese premier and is also the director of the College’s China Center, has discouraged discussions of human rights violations at the college, saying they are not not “useful”.
Transcripts of a private meeting, obtained by OpenDemocracy as part of their investigates Nolan and Jesus College’s relations with ChinaNolan said, warning students against holding public debates on the subject: “You must have both points of view represented,” he reportedly told the centre’s advisory committee last fall. “Otherwise, the college will be seen as a college militant for … the freedom of the Weiwu’ers [Uyghurs]. “
Nolan suggested that the issues surrounding the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China are “issues that affect all countries that have any minority.”
He continued, “It is not true that there is a homogeneous and correct view of what is happening in Xinjiang. The prevailing opinion… is that everyone knows what is going on. Not everyone knows what is going on.
The transcripts also include Nolan’s description of the “World Ughyur Association”, which he says is aimed at “regime change in China and other parts of the world.”
The College has significant financial ties to China, including a £ 200,000 grant from the Chinese government in 2018, as well as an additional £ 155,000 from Chinese tech company Huawei.
Nolan previously served as the Chong Hua Chair at the University’s Center for Development Studies. According to OpenDemocracy, it was funded by a 2012 £ 3.7million donation from the Chong Hua Foundation, which was reportedly controlled by the daughter of former Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao.
Speaking to the Sunday Times, former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said: “[Nolan] seems to be a spokesperson for the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] – and all his terrible behavior. All of these comments come directly from the Communist Party.
The College itself was also accused of “refusing to talk about these abuses against Uyghur Muslims for fear of offending” by Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat in Parliament earlier this year.
Meanwhile, college students have raised concerns about the College and Nolan’s ties to the Cambridge China Development Trust, which the UK government has confirmed runs training programs for Chinese officials, and whose Nolan is a director.
The students called on the college to “ensure real academic freedom” in light of Nolan’s comments. The College has also faced calls for full financial transparency on the College’s ties to China and Huaewi.
Responding to this survey, Nolan told OpenDemocracy, “I support Jesus College’s position that no subject is off limits to academic discussions. At a College meeting last November, a group of academics and students debated the challenges inherent in organizing balanced events on contentious topics. Since then, the China Center has hosted events covering topics such as human rights, Uyghurs, Hong Kong and the potential war with China, with speakers representing a wide range of opinions.
In a statement, Jesus College told OpenDemocracy that it is “strongly committed to the principles of free speech and academic independence.”
He added: “We fully agree with Iain Duncan Smith that no opinion should be hushed up. Our position is that no subject is off limits, as demonstrated by the range of recent events hosted by the College. It is a dark day if outside forces succeed in inhibiting the academic debate. “
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