Western Sydney University provided a character reference to ASIO for leading Chinese scholar and current WSU doctoral student Li Jianjun after the spy agency cancelled his student visa.
- Mr Li was in China when his visa was cancelled
- Western Sydney University says it doesn’t know what evidence ASIO used to make the assessment
- Mr Li was part of the WeChat group allegedly used for CCP infiltration into Australian politics
The university has also expressed support for Mr Li in a video message to Chinese students from Vice-Chancellor Barney Glover.
“This is an extremely uncommon situation and we look forward to him returning to Australia when possible,” Vice-Chancellor Glover told students.
The university says it doesn’t know what evidence ASIO’S Director-General relied on when the agency assessed Mr Li as a possible security risk.
Mr Li’s visa cancellation was revealed by the ABC after Australian journalists were forced to flee Beijing this week amid an escalating diplomatic row.
High level university sources said there was “outrage” among senior academics over the visa cancellation.
The ABC understands Mr Li was in China when his visa was cancelled last month, and his close university colleagues convinced senior management to write a letter to ASIO supporting the scholar.
Mr Li was part of a WeChat group that included suspended NSW Upper House MLC Shaoquett Moselmane whose home was raided by the Australian Federal Police and ASIO in June.
Mr Moselmane and Mr Li have become embroiled in a joint AFP-ASIO investigation into allegations the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) tried to infiltrate NSW parliament through his staffer, John Zhang.
Mr Zhang maintains his innocence and Mr Moselmanne has said he is not a suspect in the investigation.
Senior sources at the university would like the private messages released for transparency and to understand a significant event in WSU’s history.
They told the ABC the university was told by Mr Li the messages were innocuous and mostly involved arranging dinner parties.
Government sources said ASIO would only brief universities about its investigation if it involved the university’s own infrastructure being compromised.
The character reference sent to ASIO was signed by Vice-Chancellor Glover who was told by senior staff Mr Li was a “worthy, high quality scholar”.
The University wanted this on the record in case Mr Li tried to re-apply to enter Australia for a person they regard as being of “quality and integrity”.
Mr Li is one of the most well-known academics in a network of Australian studies centres at universities across China.
He is the secretary-general of the Chinese Association for Australian Studies, which oversees the network, and the director of Australian studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University.
Mr Li has received tens of thousands of dollars in grants from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and private companies.
He received a $60,000 scholarship funded by BHP Billiton to do his PhD at UWS on Australian writers in China in the 1950s and ’60s.
The Foundation for Australian Studies in China, which awarded the scholarship to Mr Li, has also sent a character reference in support of him to the Home Affairs Department.
Western Sydney University like most Australian tertiary institutions has a strong financial interest in good relations with Beijing.
Chinese students account for a large portion of many universities’ revenues.