Student crackdown: Cornell suspends Chinese uni exchange programmes

Students in a class at Renmin University. According to NYTimes, Renmin had punished at least a dozen students for defending workers' rights.
Students in a class at Renmin University. According to NYTimes, Renmin had punished at least a dozen students for defending workers' rights.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • Cornell University said it has suspended two exchange programmes with Beijing's Renmin University over allegations that the Chinese institution had cracked down on students for defending workers' rights.

The decision to suspend the programmes, established in 2014, "stemmed from concerns that students at the Chinese institution were being penalised for speaking out about labour rights", Cornell's School of Industrial and Labour Relations (ILR) said on Tuesday.

It was a rare rebuke of China over its rights record as an increasing number of American universities seek to build ties with their Chinese counterparts in search of prestige and money.

"The decision was reached after numerous credible reports that Renmin had taken steps to punish students for discussing recent labour events," said Professor Alexander Colvin, interim dean of the school in New York.

Asked about the American university's action against Renmin, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang urged Cornell to not go against "the trends of history" at a regular press briefing in Beijing yesterday.

Cultural exchanges between China and the United States have improved "mutual understanding" and "friendship" between the two countries, Mr Lu said.

There are three Renmin students currently studying at the ILR School who will continue their studies as planned, Prof Colvin said, without specifying how many students would be affected in total or whether any Cornell students were currently in China.

"The ILR School is committed to its research and academic activities in China, and hopes the suspended programmes will resume when conditions allow," he added.

According to the New York Times, Renmin had punished at least a dozen students who joined a national action movement calling for greater protection for Chinese workers on low wages.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 01, 2018, with the headline 'Student crackdown: Cornell suspends Chinese uni exchange programmes'. Print Edition | Subscribe