Chinese students 'threatened' during Adelaide university elections

Oscar Ong says some Chinese students at the University of Adelaide have been left fearing for their safety. Source: SBS News

A group of international students say they’ve been accused of being “openly against China” during heated student union elections.

International students taking part in student union elections in Adelaide say they have been threatened with being reported to the Chinese embassy over slogans alleged to be anti-communist.

Oscar Ong, from the student political party Progress, said party members were alarmed when a message from a fellow student, originally posted on a personal page on social messaging site WeChat, began circulating widely.

“Students actually feel uncomfortable and feel threatened,” he said. “It says Progress team was openly against China.”

The message referred to a Progress party campaign poster reading “Jobs not Socialism” and reportedly claimed party members were against socialism and communism. 

The students were campaigning for board positions on the Adelaide University Union.

The University of Adelaide
The University of Adelaide.

More than 7,000 international students attend the University of Adelaide, with China one of the main countries of origin.

Mr Ong, a Malaysian-Chinese engineering student said the slogan was “misinterpreted” and the message came from a rival political party.

“The threat is pretty serious,” he said.

“Chinese students, they are very, very scared of issues like this, especially [those] born in China.”

“Personally, I’m actually fearing my personal safety, but I would feel that it’s nothing compared to what a Chinese person would face.”

Chinese students are very, very scared of issues like this.

- Oscar Ong, Student

On its Facebook page, the Progress party describes itself as multicultural and apolitical.

The International Student Association Inc told SBS News in a statement it had received “numerous concerns” over the issue.

“This has caused genuine safety concern for a variety of students,” it said. 

Mr Ong said he hoped the university would investigate the issue.

“This is no longer a student elections issue, this is a more widespread issue among Chinese students, they fear for their own safety attending university,” he said. 

A spokesperson for the University of Adelaide said it does not involve itself in the running of student elections.

SBS News contacted the Adelaide University Union to ask about the alleged threats, including comments that members of the Progress party were "anti-communist" and would be reported to the Chinese embassy.

A spokesperson for the union said its elections “are some of the most highly regulated and scrutinised nationally” and are handled by an independent three-person election tribunal.

They were unable to confirm if a complaint had been made.

“All complaints are confidential and sent to the returning officer to be passed on to the tribunal.”

“The provisional election results are currently sitting with the election tribunal for consideration, as a result, we are not able to provide further comment at this time.”

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