Cornell University said Tuesday it had suspended two exchange programs with Beijing’s Renmin University over allegations it had cracked down on students for defending workers’ rights.

The decision to suspend the programs, established in 2014, “stemmed from concerns that students at the Chinese institution were being penalized for speaking out about labor rights,” Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations said.

It was a rare rebuke of China over its rights record as increasing number of US universities seek to build ties with their Chinese counterparts in search of prestige and money.

Cornell University from atop McGraw Tower looking southeast; Barnes Hall, Sage Hall. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/sach1tb/cc-by-sa 2.0.

“The decision was reached after numerous credible reports that Renmin had taken steps to punish students for discussing recent labor events,” said Alexander Colvin, interim dean of the school in New York.

Asked about the US university cutting ties with Renmin, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang urged Cornell University to not go against “the trends of history” at a regular press briefing in Beijing on Wednesday.

Cultural exchanges between China and the US have improved “mutual understanding” and “friendship” between the two countries, Lu said.

Renmin University. Photo: Renmin University.

There are three Renmin students currently studying at the ILR School who will continue their studies as planned, Colvin said, without specifying how many students would be affected in total or whether any Cornell students were currently in China.

“The ILR School is committed to its research and academic activities in China, and hopes the suspended programs will resume when conditions allow,” he added.

According to the New York Times, Renmin University had punished at least a dozen students who joined a national action movement calling for greater protection for Chinese workers on low wages.


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