China's 'request' to shut down AUT event could have been an order - academic

China may have requested a Tiananmen Square commemoration to be held at AUT was cancelled, but that could have easily become an order.

AUT cancelled the event's room booking in late May, citing the fact the university would actually be closed the day it was planned, and it was instead held at an Auckland Council venue, Newsroom reports.

But the cancellation only happened after Chinese diplomats became involved, which is ringing alarm bells for Otago University politics Professor Robert Patman.

"I think it's a request but it could be [an] order given the fact that China in the past has not been above withdrawing students from institutions where those institutions incur their displeasure," he told The AM Show.

"And It's one of those situations where it highlights to the institution that they could stand to lose if they don't heed that request."

Prof Patman said it's interesting China feels it can make such requests, but it may be getting nervous about coverage of the Tiananmen Square protests, which many people inside China do not know about.

"This request also shows the nervousness and the insecurity of the Chinese authorities because I know China knows full well that countries like New Zealand have freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

"I think on this particular issue however they do see commemorations of the Tiananmen Square as a bit of a challenge to the one-party system in China and it's interesting these diplomats have made that point that they see such commemorations as a challenge to the legitimacy of the regime."

Around 1 million people assembled in Tiananmen Square in 1989, protesting agaisnt political corruption and a lack of freedom of speech, among other issues.

The military moved in on June 4, 1989, and began clearing the protest, killing demonstrators and bystanders in the process. The official death toll is 300, but other estimates put it in the thousands.