Protests that began as a show of solidarity with Hong Kong have turned into a xenophobic campaign against “Chinese influence” at the University of Queensland.

A group of international students from Hong Kong began staging gatherings on the campus in July in support of the protests at home. Students held displays and set up a “Lennon wall” where people could leave messages of support, like those used by protesters in Hong Kong itself.

Then on 24 July 200 students from mainland China organised a rowdy counter-protest, repeatedly singing the Chinese national anthem at them. Some tore up posters and scuffled with the other group. Subsequently the Hong Kong students Lennon Wall has been torn down at night on several occasions.

The Hong Kong students have the right to protest without intimidation—and we should defend their ability to do so. Ordinary people in Hong Kong have protested in the millions to demand democracy in the territory, against increasing restrictions imposed by the Beijing government.

But it is a serious mistake to play into efforts to whip up xenophobia against China. A further protest at UQ on 31 July, organised mainly by domestic students, targeted “Chinese influence” on campus, calling for the closure of the Chinese-funded Confucius Institute at the university, labelling it “a propaganda centre”. Rally organisers also pandered to Australian nationalism, saying they wanted to “celebrate freedom in Australia”.

The Chinese state is an authoritarian dictatorship that deals brutally with ethnic minorities such as the Uighurs. But the US rivalry with China is producing a xenophobic campaign designed to justify US and Australian military aggression.

Former SAS soldier and hard right Liberal MP Andrew Hastie recently condemned China as a “threat to our sovereignty and freedoms”, and demanded tougher action to oppose China in our region.

Academic Clive Hamilton, in a book with the xenophobic title “Silent invasion” has depicted China in lurid terms as a threat to academic freedom in Australian universities.

The student campaign at UQ has now organised for Clive Hamilton to speak on campus, in a further sign of its mistaken direction.

We should oppose China’s imperialism in the region as well as its stifling of democratic rights. But the US and Australian ruling classes have no commitment to democracy or workers’ rights either. Our most important task in Australia is to oppose the nationalism and racism that goes along with our own government’s imperialism abroad.

By James Supple

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