Both new to activism, they didn’t know each other until a few weeks ago.
Until recently, Mr. Yiu had led the university’s Hong Kong Student Association, holding benign activities like welcome dinners. Mr. Pavlou was known on campus for starting a popular Facebook group for intellectual debate.
But recent events involving China, they said, forced them to act. Mr. Yiu said he had friends in Hong Kong marching for democracy and against a bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China. Mr. Pavlou said his own outrage was prompted by reading about Xinjiang, a region of China where the government has pushed minority Muslims into re-education camps.
“It’s cultural genocide,” Mr. Pavlou said.
Adding to his anger, he discovered his own university had cultivated close ties with Chinese officials. While the University of Queensland is one of several universities with a Confucius Institute — officially a program to promote Chinese language and culture — the vice chancellor, Peter Hoj, has made more of that relationship than his peers have.
The institute at the university plays a broader role, emphasizing collaboration with China in science, engineering and technology. Until late last year, Mr. Hoj was an unpaid consultant for the Confucius Institute headquarters. This month, he granted a visiting professorship to the Chinese consul general in Brisbane, Xu Jie, bringing a Communist Party official into university life at a time when the United States, Canada and several European countries have cut ties.
“It’s part of this China illiteracy, which is quite prevalent in Australia,” said Louisa Lim, a professor at the University of Melbourne and the author of “The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited.”
“In many cases,” she said, “the allure of Chinese investment and large numbers of Chinese students has been so overwhelming that educational institutions have just thrown their arms wide open without doing their due diligence.”