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Why a Young Australian Who Has Never Visited China Became Target for Beijing’s Fury

FILE PHOTO: The Australian flag flutters in entrance of the Great Hall of the People throughout a welcoming ceremony for Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (not in image) in Beijing, China, April 14, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee

The Global Times — a nationalist state-run tabloid — has revealed a collection of articles branding him an “anti-China rioter” and portraying him because the face of alleged anti-Chinese racism in Australia.

  • AFP
  • Last Updated: September 16, 2020, 1:10 PM IST


An Australian college scholar who has by no means visited China and has solely a modest social media following would appear an unlikely goal for the Chinese authorities.

But when a international ministry spokesman personally denounced Drew Pavlou at a latest press convention, it was simply the following section in a rare marketing campaign towards the 21-year-old that has fuelled considerations over China’s focusing on of critics abroad.

Pavlou first positioned himself within the superpower’s sights when he organised a small sit-in the University of Queensland, the place he studied, in July final 12 months to protest towards numerous Chinese authorities insurance policies.

Since then, the Global Times — a nationalist state-run tabloid — has revealed a collection of articles branding him an “anti-China rioter” and portraying him because the face of alleged anti-Chinese racism in Australia.

Pavlou, a philosophy scholar, stated he had additionally acquired demise threats after one in every of China’s envoys in Australia labelled him a “separatist”.

The international ministry’s focusing on of Pavlou occurred final month when the spokesman was requested a couple of viral {photograph} exhibiting a Chinese diplomat strolling throughout folks’s backs within the Pacific island nation of Kiribati.

“There was a person named Drew Pavlou who revealed this photo. This person has always been anti-China out of political motives,” the spokesman stated, though Pavlou neither took the picture nor was the primary to share it.

Pavlou stated he was taking part in Grand Theft Auto on his Xbox on the time and that he “was just absolutely shocked”. “It’s very weird for a superpower to be focusing on one 21-year-old Aussie student, one Aussie bloke who fundamentally is pretty stupid and does a lot of dumb things,” Pavlou advised AFP.

Demonstration and defamation

At instances, Pavlou’s confrontational model of activism has invited criticism, and made him a helpful foil for Beijing.

He was accused of racism after posing exterior his college’s Chinese-funded Confucius Institute with an indication declaring it a “Covid-19 biohazard” early within the pandemic. He now regrets the stunt, however nonetheless doesn’t perceive why Beijing has saved him in its sights.

One rationalization is that his activism has touched a nerve.

As properly as criticising China’s violent crackdowns in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet, Pavlou has drawn consideration to the cosy relationship between Australian universities and the Chinese state.

Those ties at the moment are being investigated by a number of Australian authorities for concern the inflow of Chinese money might have jeopardised the nationwide curiosity.

Elaine Pearson, Australia director for Human Rights Watch, stated a “thin-skinned” Beijing had solely drawn larger consideration to Pavlou and his advocacy.

“It’s pretty obvious from China’s actions more broadly that it really has no tolerance for dissent or opposing views these days,” Pearson stated, including the Chinese Communist Party’s “long arm of authoritarianism” was now reaching throughout the globe.

Pavlou’s antics additionally led the University of Queensland to amass a 186-page file of alleged disciplinary breaches towards him, from incendiary social media posts to utilizing a pen in a campus store with out paying for it.

After a closed-door listening to, Pavlou was suspended for 2 years, later decreased to the remainder of 2020 on enchantment.

Pavlou is suing the college, its chancellor and vice-chancellor for Aus$3.5 million ($2.5 million) for alleged breach of contract and defamation.

The college has confronted high-profile criticism over its dealing with of Pavlou’s case, together with from former prime minister Kevin Rudd, who advised native media the establishment risked being seen as “bending the knee to Beijing”.

Like many Australian faculties, the University of Queensland turned extremely depending on tuition charges from worldwide college students to fund analysis and subsidise home scholar locations.

About 182,000 Chinese college students have been enrolled in Australian universities in 2019, bringing an estimated $6.eight billion into the economic system.

A University of Queensland spokeswoman denied any “political motivations” in pursuing disciplinary motion towards Pavlou.

“Neither of the findings of serious misconduct concerned Mr Pavlou’s personal or political views about China or Hong Kong,” she stated, including freedom of speech was “of utmost importance to UQ”.

Pavlou stated he “never set out to be a political activist” and simply wished to organise a single protest to “disrupt things on campus”.

But whereas Pavlou stated he was initially “naive”, he doesn’t seem to have been intimidated by China.

His Twitter bio now carries a cheeky reference to the spokesman’s focusing on of him: “Human rights and democracy activist. Youngest Australian ever denounced by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.”

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