Monday, 22 February 2021
Ábhair Ghnó an tSeanaid – Matters on the Business of the Seanad
The general narrative on the change of government in the United States has been good riddance to Trump and welcoming the United States back to the civilised world. However, if one considers President Biden's recent comments on China, one has cause to be worried.He was at best incoherent and, at worst, worryingly nonchalant about the abuse of human rights and human dignity being perpetrated by the Chinese regime. Asked at a CNN town hall about what China is doing to the Uyghurs, he said: "Culturally there are different norms in each country and their leaders are expected to follow." This might be President Biden's confusion, which would be worrying, or, as I said, it might just be that the emphasis of the new Administration will be firmly on trade. Yet the same CNN a few days later reported what Qelbinur Sidik had to say. She is a former elementary school teacher who was forced to spend several months teaching at two detention centres in Xinjiang in 2017. She made allegations of shackled students and gang rape inside China's detention camps. I will quote her. "When ... [male guards] were drinking at night, the policemen would tell each other how they raped and tortured girls." Mike Pompeo was more direct about the evils of what China is perpetrating on its Uyghur and indeed other ethnic and religious minorities. He spoke clearly before leaving office about the arbitrary imprisonment and other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than 1 million people, forced sterilisation, torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained, etc. We passed unanimously in this House a motion calling on Ireland to use its diplomatic and trade channels to put pressure on China, but I wonder how serious our Government is.
The problem is that our education system may be contaminated as well because there are developing links between Irish universities and Chinese universities, including the proposal between UCC and Minzu University to have a joint college arrangement. Can we be sure that human rights and freedom, including academic freedom and freedom of thought, will be guaranteed to Irish staff and students going to China or Chinese staff and students coming here? I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to take this on board and to come before the Seanad on this issue. I ask the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, to do so also because what is going on in our education system must be scrutinised where it involves links between Irish institutions and Chinese institutions.