The Government has been warned that developing links between Irish and Chinese universities must be scrutinised because of concerns about human rights violations in China.
Independent Senator Rónán Mullen said the State’s education system may be “contaminated” as a result of developing these links amid such violations.
He pointed to a proposal for a further joint college arrangement between UCC and Minzu University in Beijing. An existing arrangement between the two institutes already provides for staff from the Cork university to teach students in Minzu and for students from the Chinese university to spend their third year of college in Cork.
Minzu University focuses on ethnic studies and educates students from minorities, many of whom go on to become Chinese Communist Party officials or cadres.
Mr Mullen asked: “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?”
He called for Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris to address the Seanad about the issue and the growing co-operation between Irish and Chinese educational institutions.
He also called for Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney to address the House on "the abuse of human rights and human dignity being perpetrated by the Chinese regime" on Uighurs in Xinjiang province.
The Senator said the Seanad had unanimously passed a motion calling on the State to use its diplomatic and trade channels to put pressure on China over such actions, “but I wonder how serious our Government is”.
He also expressed concern about the current US administration’s approach to China, saying that its emphasis in this regard might be “firmly on trade”. He mentioned comments by US president Joe Biden on CNN before his election when asked about the treatment of Uighurs that “culturally there are different norms in each country and their leaders are expected to follow”.
The Senator noted how on CNN a few days later former primary school teacher Qelbinur Sidik spoke about being 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,” he said, quoting her as saying that when male guards “were drinking at night, the policemen would tell each other how they raped and tortured girls”.
He said former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo was "direct about the evils of what China is perpetrating on its Uighur and indeed other ethnic and religious minorities", adding that Mr Pompeo had spoken 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".
Current US secretary of state Antony Blinken has previously described the treatment of Uighurs in China as genocide.