Jesus College under fire for accepting donations from Huawei

The college accepted hundreds of thousands of pounds from the Chinese tech giant as well as an agency part of the Chinese State Council

An article published in The Times today revealed that Jesus College accepted £155,000 from controversial Chinese tech giant Huawei as well as £200,000 from an agency associated with the Chinese government, raising concerns over the neutrality of the College’s China Centre.

Jesus College runs two China-focused initiatives: The China Centre and the UK-China Global Issues Dialogue Centre. The China Centre was set up in May 2016 and, according to the Jesus College website, “aims to deepen mutual understanding between China and the West by ‘using the past to serve the present’.

“The Centre organises seminars, workshops and book launches involving scholars, government officials and business people. The events represent a wide array of views in order to contribute to mutual understanding between China and the West.”

Huawei is a named funder of the Dialogue Centre, however the amount that the College received from them had not been publicly disclosed until The Times demanded the information by a freedom of information request. This request also brought to light the donations to the college by an agency which is part of China’s State Council back in September 2018.

The College produced a ‘white paper’ on global communications reforms following a symposium in October, which according to the Times refers to Huawei “favourably” and has sparked accusations of “reputation laundering” of the tech giant.

The £155,000 donation was, according to the College, part of a two-year research and innovation agreement with Huawei.  In a statement to The Tab, a spokesperson for Jesus College said: “There is a clause enshrining academic freedom and free speech written into the research collaboration agreement. The Dialogue Centre owns all research results; Huawei cannot veto research findings, the publication of views or conclusions.

“It was made very clear in the report that it was funded by Huawei.”

JCSU, the College’s student union, had been looking into the centres’ financial and academic history for some weeks, and has written a letter to the Master of the College, Sonita Alleyne, calling for the China Centre “to represent a wider range of views, including those critical of China’s activities or the CCP” and “full transparency on the China Centre’s funding, current and historic.”

JCSU has also called for the centre to hold events on “the human rights abuses in China”, “Hong Kong and the Extradition Bill” and “Huawei and data concerns” following recent global developments concerning China’s involvement in Hong Kong and the controversy surrounding Huawei’s 5G network, operating in countries around the world, including the UK.

The Students’ Union also requests “a commitment that Jesus College and organisations within it (such as the China Centre) will not take donations or funding from Huawei – as the China Centre at Oxford University and the Prince’s Trust have done.”

The Jesus College spokesperson said: “We have had a brief initial conversation with the JCSU President to discuss the concerns raised yesterday, and to address some inaccuracies. We are looking to arrange more in-depth discussions. We promote intellectual freedom and create space to criticise where we disagree and engage where we can.

“As an academic institution, we remain committed to dialogue and intellectual discourse between China and the West. We are delighted to engage with all of our members including students, Fellows and alumni about events and activities arranged by College academic initiatives.”

Recent escalations in Hong Kong have caused UK foreign minister, and Jesus College alumnus, Dominic Raab to condemn China’s actions in Hong Kong, saying: “There is an issue around freedom and human rights in Hong Kong, and there is an issue around China keeping its word on an international obligation it made to the United Kingdom back in 1984.” and he is being urged to take further action against the country.

The letter from the Students’ Union goes on to say: “We think the China Centre occupies an important role in College, and we are keen to work constructively with College to reform the Centre so that it better represents the values of financial transparency, academic freedom and political independence.

“Such changes will enhance the reputation of the College and avoid continued negative press coverage surrounding a Centre that we should be able to be very proud of.”

The spokesperson also stated: “Following her arrival last October, our new Master has begun to review how we communicate the College’s activities and the status of historic collaborations. This includes our connections to China, some of which date back many years. As you would expect, this work has been curtailed by the current pandemic, but is set to continue in the coming academic year.”

The president of JCSU, Aurelio Petrucci, is feeling positive about discussions with College. He told the Tab : “the Master is really engaging on this and many other issues and I have absolute confidence that she’ll work with us to do the right thing.”

He maintains: “Regardless of claims about balance and political independence, it is still inappropriate to accept funding from Huawei and the Chinese state”

A spokesperson for Huawei has said: “We are proud of our partnerships with world-leading universities and researchers here in the UK.”

Cover image credit: JesusGreen (Wikimedia Commons license)