The University of Oslo in Norway has agreed to a four-year deal with the Chinese Communist Party-controlled Fudan University to establish a European Centre for China Studies on Norwegian soil, despite Hungary shelving similar plans after weeks of protest in Budapest.
On Saturday, the University of Oslo defended its decision to enter into a four-year “limited” agreement with the Chinese university, after questions were raised over the independence of Chinese researchers from the Communist regime in Beijing.
The University of Oslo said in a statement that it has agreed to partner with Fudan University in order to “develop new knowledge, especially in the topics of climate, environment and health”.
The top-ranked Norwegian university said that it had developed guides working in tandem with the country’s security services in order to safeguard against potential espionage.
“The establishment of the centre has been thoroughly discussed among others with China researchers at UiO who work with topics such as Taiwan, Xinjiang, human rights, and other politically sensitive topics,” the university added.
Oslo said that the pairing with Fudan was critical as “Norway needs to build much more competence about China, and globally we need to work closely with China on many topics, not least climate, environment, health, and justice”.
“Fudan collaboration at [the University of Oslo] is a small piece in this, but at a time when all collaboration is under pressure, and it is increasingly difficult for young researchers and students to gain access to China, academic collaborations play a particularly important role by opening doors and contributing to the global knowledge the whole world needs,” they claimed.
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The move has drawn sharp criticism, with the political editor of the leading Norwegian tabloid Verdens Gang, Hanne Skartveit, warning that Fudan University, like all other institutions in China, is subject to state control by the ruling Communist Party.
“Chinese authorities are putting strong pressure on their universities. The goal, both in China and around the world, is to ‘create a more nuanced and balanced understanding of China’. Propaganda, in other words. The opposite of critical and independent research and teaching,” Skartveit wrote.
“The warnings do not mean that we should not cooperate with China or other authoritarian regimes. Both student exchange and research collaboration are important in this context. But we must know what we are doing. We can not be naive,” she added.
The move from the University of Oslo comes just a few months after the University of Bergen in Norway announced that it would be shutting down its branch of the Confucius Institute, a subsidiary of the Chinese Ministry of Education and the Communist Party’s central propaganda department, which purports to seek to merely advance Chinese culture and language abroad.
The controversial communist programme has been accused of shutting down debate on campuses across the world on sensitive topics for Beijing, such as Taiwan, Tibet, and the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
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Fudan University branches in Europe have also come under increasing fire, with the University of Copenhagen in Denmark severing ties with the Chinese school last summer.
More recently, mass protests have been staged in Budapest over the past month against Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s plans to open up a Fudan branch in the Hungarian capital.
The Orbán government agreed to build the campus with a massive $1.5 billion (£1.08bn) Belt and Road-style loan from the CCP, which would employ Chinese contractors and source Chinese materials, meaning the economic benefits of the project would not be going to the Hungarian people.
Amid mass protests against the move over human rights concerns, the supposedly anti-communist Orbán government was forced to shelve the project and subject the plan to a public referendum in Budapest, which will likely block the Chinese university.
The political editor for Verdens Gang noted that this would leave Norway as the only European outpost for Fudan, saying that the “the fox” is on its way into the “Norwegian academic chicken farm”.
“The incredible thing is that the gate is opened from the inside,” Skartveit lamented.
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