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Death of Confucius Institute official in US sparks questions

By LIU YINMENG  in Los Angeles | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-10-16 23:53

[Photo/Webster University official website]

The death of a Confucius Institute representative at an American university has led to calls for the release of more details while local officials continue an investigation.

Liu Qiang, a representative from the Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU) at Webster University's Confucius Institute, was reported dead on Oct 7, a day after police and FBI agents searched his home as part of a child pornography investigation, according to the university and local media reports.

A press release issued Tuesday by the city of Webster Groves, Missouri, where the private university's main campus is located, was titled "suicide investigation".

"On Wednesday, October 7th at approximately 09:45 A.M. Officers responded to the first block of Colonial Village Court for a SUICIDE, JUST DISCOVERED," the press release said.

"The initial investigation of the scene revealed no signs of foul play. This remains an ongoing investigation," it continued.

A spokesperson for the St. Louis County Police Department told China Daily that the county's Tactical Operations Unit executed a search warrant at Liu's apartment on Oct 6 between 7:34 pm and 8:29 pm.

No one was home during the search, so officers did not make any arrest, the spokesperson said.  However, authorities seized evidence from the location, and officials are continuing an investigation into the case.

Webster University released a statement on Oct 10 saying it was saddened to learn of Liu's death. The university said it believes there is no connection between the investigation and the university.

"The University has no evidence or reason to believe that the reported investigation or Mr. Liu's death relates in any way to the Confucius Institute at Webster University or, more generally, to the University. Nevertheless, Webster University will investigate to determine whether there is any evidence of harm to any member of the University community relating to this matter," the statement said.

A spokesperson for Webster University referred questions about the investigation to local law enforcementagents.

Liu was a teacher at BLCU's faculty of foreign studies before going to Webster University's Confucius Institute as a BLCU representative in January 2019.

BLCU said Sunday that it has set up a task force on the case and urged US police officers to reveal more details about Liu's death.

The university is in close contact with the Chinese Consulate General in Chicago and Webster University and is sending personnel to the US to follow up on Liu's death, the statement added.

In the same message, the university also noted that the case is under investigation and urged the public to refrain from spreading unsubstantiated information.

Liu's death came amid rising US-China tensions and increasing rhetoric against the Confucius Institute by the US State Department.

The lack of details in the police reports stirred a backlash on Chinese social media, with many netizens questioning whether Liu was a victim of political prosecution and demanding that US law enforcement agencies reveal more details surrounding his death. "The report is too vague. We don't know how he died or why he died," a user stated.

Another Weibo user questioned the lack of evidencesupporting child pornography as the basis for the warrant.

"It was an excuse to search his apartment, and most likely to arouse the anger of onlookers. But in fact, there is no evidence for the reason for the investigation. They are simply talking nonsense," the user said.

"The Confucius Institute was established to enable more Americans to learn Chinese and the Chinese culture, but now the Trump administration has labeled it a spy system, and even the leaders of the institute have died strangely," wrote another user.

Still, some netizens urged others to refrain from drawing conclusions before the investigation is completed.

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