buruma184_ PHILIP PACHECOAFP via Getty Images_money from china PHILIP PACHECOAFP via Getty Images

When Money Smells

Research can be expensive for cash-strapped universities, and many countries, including China, are more than happy to help. The question is whether universities, or indeed media outlets, should ever accept money from donors that have a political interest in the returns on their generosity.

NEW YORK – In recent years, the Vrije Universiteit (Free University) Amsterdam has conducted research on human rights in China. As part of this work, carried out by the university’s Cross Cultural Human Rights Center, researchers traveled to Xinjiang province, notorious for the Chinese authorities’ mass incarceration of more than one million Uyghurs and members of other largely Muslim minorities. The CCHRC published the results of its investigations in a newsletter, financed through the Southwest University of Political Science and Law in Chongqing.

It was a little strange, but hardly surprising, to learn from one of the Dutch researchers, Peter Peverelli, that he saw nothing untoward in Xinjiang. The region was “just lovely,” he said, “lovely people, breathtaking nature, great food. And no forced labor, no genocide, or whatever other lies the Western media might come up with.”

The Vrije Universiteit had to admit that something was not quite right. It now says it will not accept further Chinese funding for the center and will return the money it received last year. The CCHRC website was taken offline, leaving behind only a terse statement: “Human rights are preeminently the area where inclusiveness and diversity are important.”

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