An Australian author claims that his new nonfiction book about alleged Chinese infiltration of the Australian government was killed by its would-be publisher due to pressure from Beijing.
Professor Clive Hamilton, who teaches public ethics at Charles Sturt University, penned a book titled “Silent Invasion: How China is Turning Australia into a Puppet State.” Hamilton is a respected academic who has written over a dozen books, eight of which were published by Allen & Unwin, the publishing house that was to put out his latest work.
However, citing legal fears about potential defamation action, Allen & Unwin “delayed” the book’s release. “After extensive legal advice we decided to delay publication of Clive’s book ‘Silent Invasion’ until certain matters currently before the courts have been decided,” the publisher told the BBC.
“Clive was unwilling to delay publication and requested the return of his rights, as he is entitled to do.”
“Allen & Unwin said that they were worried about retaliation from Beijing through a number of possible avenues, including legal threats orchestrated by Beijing, and they decided it was too big a risk and so therefore pulled the plug and returned the rights to me,” Hamilton told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
“This really is a watershed in the debate over China’s suppression of free speech. [It is] the first instance where a major Western publisher has decided to censor material [critical] of the Chinese Communist Party in its home country.”
Australia’s conservative Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is expected to unveil new legislation in 2018 meant to counter alleged foreign interference in Australian civil liberties. “Beijing is playing a long game,” he said. “It is inserting agents of influence at all levels of government and in all in situations in Australia, to local government to federal Parliament,” Hamilton told The Australian.
China was accused of meddling with the Australian government when two wealthy Chinese businessmen who were avid political donors were alleged to be agents of Beijing in June. China has more lax laws on campaign donations than countries like the UK or the US, allowing for donations from foreign nationals.
China is also a major investor into Australian development, such as in the property market, where global real estate consultancy Knight Frank reported that 38 percent of residential development sites purchased in 2016 were bought by Chinese companies.
Both Hamilton’s book and Turnbull’s law are to be a reaction to allegations of Chinese interference in Australian society, especially universities. Several Chinese exchange students have publicly complained that teaching material at Australian schools has been false about or insulting to China.
One incident that drew controversy was when Chinese students protested over course materials listing Hong Kong and Taiwan as independent countries. The students complained that the lecturer was making them “feel uncomfortable” and he should “show respect.”
The other incidents that drew controversy were a map that showed Chinese-claimed territory as part of India, a cheating probe that allegedly targeted Chinese exchange students, and a test question that implied Beijing officials only told the truth when they were “drunk or careless.”
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop replied in September that Chinese students at Australian schools should respect freedom of speech at universities, as speech should not be “curbed in any way.”
“This country prides itself on its values of openness and upholding freedom of speech, and if people want to come to Australia [those] are our laws,” Bishop said. “That’s who we are. And they should abide by it.”
Education Minister Simon Birmingham responded to Bishop’s statement with one of his own. While it did not directly reference China, but encouraged all Australian students to think critically, “whatever [their] background.”