China’s Hong Kong national security law affects US colleges

US universities seek ways to protect students, faculty from being prosecuted by Chinese authorities

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Harvard University 

Harvard University  (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — China’s new national security law in Hong Kong is affecting how U.S. colleges teach their classes.

According to the Wall Street Journal, classes at some of America’s top universities will now come with a warning for the upcoming school year — "this course may cover material considered politically sensitive by China." Colleges are currently looking into ways to protect students and faculty from being prosecuted by the Chinese authorities.

Students taking a Chinese political class at Princeton University will resort to codes instead of names on their assignments in order to protect their identities, while an Amherst College professor is mulling anonymous online chats so students can openly express their opinions. Harvard Business School is considering allowing students worried about risks to not participate in talking about topics considered politically sensitive by Beijing.

With many college students connecting virtually due to the pandemic, the fear is that students logging in from China and Hong Kong could have their classes recorded and used against them by Chinese authorities. About 370,000 Chinese students and around 7,000 from Hong Kong were studying at American universities during the 2018-19 school year, the report stated.

Assistant Professor Rory Truex, who teaches Chinese politics at Princeton, told the paper that his class will now come with a warning that it covers topics deemed sensitive by China, in addition to blind grading. Students will turn in work with a code instead of their name to protect privacy.

Meg Rithmire, who teaches political science at Harvard Business School, is planning similar measures for her class that covers China’s Uighur Muslim camps, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the legitimacy of the Communist party, the report said. Avery Goldstein, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s political science department, told the outlet that he will send out a syllabus with a warning that his online class could contain topics considered sensitive.

The new national security law in Hong Kong criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign or external forces. It allows Beijing to go after and prosecute people it sees as a threat, even if outside of Hong Kong.

Concerns about Beijing’s influence on institutions of higher learning around the world have grown over the years, especially as more schools set up campuses in China and as many universities, especially U.S. ones, have come to rely on tuition fees from Chinese students.