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.
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.
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."
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.
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)