A major Dutch university’s decision to sever a Chinese funding stream has reignited political debate in the Netherlands about the methods Beijing is using to try to steer human rights discussions in Europe.
“We do not have a clear image of how often such influence operations occur within academia, but we can definitely say that this is a clear case of attempting to exert ‘soft-power’ by the Chinese Communist Party,” said Rob de Wijk, professor of international relations and security at Leiden University. “If money changes hands in the way it has, it’s impossible for the institution to stray from the Communist Party line.”
De Wijk warned, however, against generalizing all instances of Chinese-backed research, and said there was still a need for dialogue between academic institutions.
“There are many types of important research and they don’t all lend themselves to potential influence peddling anyway. For example, researching the question ‘Why do trees grow?’ can hardly be doused in a communist sauce but may yield enormously important findings,” he said.