China’s state-run Global Times reported on Wednesday that it received a statement from the police in Webster Groves, Missouri, indicating that the October 7 death of Qiang “David” Liu, formerly a representative of the Confucius Institute at Webster University, was a suicide.
There has been little coverage in U.S. media of such a statement, although early reports of Liu’s death indicated that suicide was a possibility.
The Confucius Institute is a language and cultural program supported by the Chinese government criticized as a political influence operation for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently sent a letter to universities warning that “the presence of this authoritarian influence on our campuses has never been more concerning, nor more consequential.”
The letter warned that Confucius Institute teachers vetted and paid by the Chinese government could be “expected to avoid discussing China’s treatment of dissidents and religious and ethnic minorities.” American universities were encouraged, but not required, to consider terminating the programs.
Webster University said it was “saddened” to learn of Liu’s death on October 7. He reportedly died “following a police search of his apartment as part of a child pornography investigation.”
“The University has no evidence or reason to believe that the reported investigation or Mr. Liu’s death relates in any way to the Confucius Institute at Webster University or, more generally, to the University. Nevertheless, Webster University will conduct an investigation to determine whether there is any evidence of harm to any member of the University community relating to this matter,” the university’s statement said.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted two days later that references to Liu’s role as an ex officio member of the Webster University Confucius Institute board had been removed from the university website.
According to the Global Times, the Beijing Language and Culture University is urging Missouri police to reveal more details about Liu’s death, and is sending a “special work team” to the United States to investigate. The report said Webster University is “working closely with the Chinese Consulate General in Chicago to further the investigation.”
The Global Times said Liu’s death has “triggered backlashes on China’s social media platforms,” including demands for the full circumstances of Liu’s death and insinuations that the child pornography investigation is just a cover story.
“Some netizens have asked if Liu was a victim of U.S. political prosecution,” the Global Times intoned, quoting Chinese social media allegations that America’s ostensibly unfair treatment of the Confucius Institute drove Liu to suicide. The Chinese paper disapprovingly quoted Secretary of State Pompeo describing the Institute as “a propaganda arm of the Chinese Communist Party.”