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Australian publisher pulls book amid China backlash fears

November 13, 2017

A book alleging wide Chinese influence on institutions in Australia has been pulled, with the publisher citing concerns of legal action from Beijing. Fears are growing that freedom of speech is being curbed from abroad.

Sydney Opera House in Chinese red for New Year
Image: picture alliance/dpa/Pacific Press

Australian publisher Allen & Unwin is delaying plans to release a book alleging widespread Chinese political influence in the country because of fears of legal attacks from Beijing, the book's author said on Monday.

Academic Clive Hamilton said he had received an email on Wednesday from the publisher's CEO, Robert Gorman, citing concerns about Chinese government reaction to the book. The email, seen by news agencies, stated that there was a "very high chance" of a "defamation action" being pursued by Beijing.

Clive Hamilton
Hamilton warned of dangers to free speechImage: gemeinfrei

Allen & Unwin , one of Australia's largest independent publishers, said in a statement on Sunday that it was delaying publication of the book "Silent Invasion"after receiving "extensive legal advice."

Hamilton, who is a well-known author and ethics professor at Charles Sturt University in the eastern city of Sydney, called the publisher's decision "a watershed moment in Australia, when Beijing can supress free speech."

'Very factual' book

He told the Reuters news agency in a telephone interview that his book, which he described as "very factual, very deeply researched," was the "first comprehensive national study of Beijing's program of exerting influence on another nation."

He said he had documented the influence of the Chinese Communist Party on Australian political parties, universities and cultural organizations, as well as on Chinese living in Australia.

Companies in China hit by online censorship

He says he will find another publisher for the work in the face of the delay.

A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Gen Ghuang, said on Monday that he was unaware of the issue, but stressed that China was intent on cooperating with Australia on the basis of "mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit."

Read more: Australia drifts toward China amid wobbly US ties

Growing influence?

The issue of the "soft power" exerted by Beijing in Australia has come increasingly to the forefront of political discourse in Australia over the past year.

In June, Canberra ordered an inquiry into activities by foreign governments after Australian media carried out an investigation into two Chinese billionaires who made large donations to political parties and had reported links to Beijing.

Chinese students in Melbourn
Chinese students have been warned on freedom of speechImage: picture-alliance/dpa/H. He

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has also told Chinese students in Australia that "openness and upholding freedom of speech" were among the nation's important values and should be abided by.

Her remarks came following cases at Australian universities where Chinese students have complained about professors teaching in a manner that went against Communist Party ideology, including referring to Hong Kong and Taiwan as independent countries. 

Pressure from Beijing

It is not the first time that publishers outside China have felt pressured with regard to material that Beijing sees as problematic.

In August, Britain's Cambridge University Press removed 300 academic articles touching on delicate Chinese political issues from a journal's website in China at the request of an import agency. It reposted the articles following a public outcry.

The US-based Association for Asian Studies said in the same month that it had refused to comply with a request from China's publications administration to withdraw politically sensitive texts.

Beijing has said that all imported publications must be in line with Chinese laws and regulations.

tj/ng (Reuters, AFP)