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Hong Kong-born student pens urgent warning against Cornell’s planned partnership with China’s Peking University


“Universities that treasure academic freedom within countries that treasure freedom of speech cannot cooperate with universities that purge academic freedom under tyrannies that purge freedom of speech.”


A Hong Kong native who attends Cornell University wrote a dire warning to his peers and faculty in the independent student newspaper, imploring the school to rescind its recent agreement to create a dual degree program with China’s Peking University, which is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Kinen Kao, who fled Hong Kong after China’s hostile takeover in 2019 and has been unable to return home, serves as co-president of Cornell’s Society for the Promotion of East Asian Liberty and is a frequent contributor to the Cornell Review.

In his most recent article, he recalled visiting the Chinese mainland when he was just 12 years old and witnessing first-hand the way students there were indoctrinated with pro-CCP propaganda.

Just nine years later, he is now witnessing the same degree of indoctrination at home, where the Hong Kong education system “is gradually turning into a brainwashing system, and students are rapidly losing their freedom of speech to express their true selves in school.”

While students as young as six years old are being taught about the virtues of the “draconian” National Security Law, which has been working to squeeze out any traces of Western-style liberalism in the formerly autonomous administrative territory, secondary school students and teachers are constantly monitored by CCTV cameras, “preventing teachers from ‘corrupting students’ with free thinking and terrorizing students from developing any ideas of resistance.”

In mainland China, academic freedom is barely existent, explained Kao. The CCP has long arrested Chinese scholars, but it also attempts to squash the liberties of foreigners who are critical of the regime’s treatment of the Uighur population through intimidation tactics and lawsuits. Among those the CCP has sued is German researcher Adrian Zenz, a renowned China scholar who exposed the CCP’s use of forced abortions, sterilization, and birth control as part of the genocide it is waging on the Uighur population.

All this is evidence, Kao wrote, that “if Cornell pursues a dual degree program with China’s Peking University, the Chinese Communist Party will definitely abuse this program to both brainwash Cornell students with CCP propaganda, and silence Cornell professors and students who speak up against the CCP.”

Indeed, as the Washington Free Beacon has previously reported, Cornell, which refused to acknowledge to the newspaper whether the CCP is guilty of human rights abuses, has largely ignored the vocal objections of faculty and students who say the school is selling out to China.

“China has long been a cash cow for the Ivy League university, which raised $27 million from Chinese donors between 2014 and 2019, federal records show,” the Free Beacon reported in March. Now that the CCP’s human rights abuses have gained more attention, however, many are calling into question the ethics of such a partnership as the one proposed. 

The Chinese Communist Party may well be remembered as one of the savviest tyrannical regimes in human history, so complex is their agenda to extend tendrils of influence all around the globe, something which they have executed chillingly well in the United States.

Our nation has long been a beacon of free speech that has attracted citizens from a wide variety of countries, and it is to those who have little or no such liberties in their own country that this has posed the most appeal.

How must they feel, to arrive here to take advantage of our prestigious universities, only to find that a repressive government like the CCP is buying its way into the academic institutions meant to provide students with the opportunities to break free of such influences?

“Universities that treasure academic freedom within countries that treasure freedom of speech cannot cooperate with universities that purge academic freedom under tyrannies that purge freedom of speech,” Kao concluded in his piece. “Before the day China is freed from the tyrannical clutches of the Chinese Communist Party, academic cooperation between the United States and China simply will not end well.”

Cornell University is not just letting its own students down. It is letting the entire global community down — most especially Chinese expatriates who have looked to our nation as a safe haven from Beijing.

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