CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 9 September 2017

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The censorship polemic

HONG KONG (SE): After the Cambridge University Press confirmed publicly that it had received an instruction from a Chinese import agency to block individual articles from The China Quarterly within China, it said on August 18 that it would comply for the sake of being able to make the bulk of its material available (Sunday Examiner, August 27), but would not change its editorial line to appease China.
 
But on August 22, the publisher withdrew its promise to delete certain articles deemed sensitive by the Beijing authorities, announcing it would withdraw its decision and refuse to block any articles in the future.
 
“Academic freedom is the overriding principle on which the University of Cambridge is based. Therefore… the university’s academic leadership and the press have agreed to reinstate the blocked content, with immediate effect…” it says in a press release.
 
On the following day, China’s Global Times launched an attack on the British publisher, saying, “If they don’t like the Chinese way, they can stop engaging with us.”
 
But what the Cambridge University Press calls a stifling of academe and silencing of Chinese academics, the Global Times calls western arrogance.
 
“These westerners are arrogant and absurd,” it editorialises, saying the Cambridge University Press decision not to comply with the Chinese request and remove some 300 titles from its China feed lacks respect for Chinese law.
 
However, in fuming its own arrogance the Global Times seems rather politically oriented, as the bulk of the articles that China is demanding to be cut mostly refer to the Three-Ts; Tiananmen, Taiwan and Tibet; with a few hot potatoes like the Cultural Revolution, Xinjiang and Hong Kong thrown in.
 
Nevertheless, exactly what the Chinese tabloid is attacking is somewhat obscure. While the rhetoric is politically orientated, it also carries business overtones, saying, “If they think China’s Internet market is so important that they cannot miss out, they need to respect Chinese law and adapt to the Chinese way.”
 
The director of the Australian Centre of China, Geremie Barmé, says in an article entitled, Burn books, bury the scholars! published in China Heritage on August 22, that this assessment is maybe not far from the mark.
 
Barmé points out that the Internet in China is indeed a money spinner and it would pay the Cambridge University Press to have access and state approval, both to increase its sales and ensure a continued flow of fee paying students through the university doors.
 
However, bowing to censorship is also a dangerous game for the prestigious university publisher, as it could well spell losses in peer respect and long term disaffection from the academic community, so balancing the pluses and minuses is a delicate exercise.
 
However, the Global Times maintains, “China’s Internet regulations are defensive, not offensive to the west.”
 
It also hides within what it calls China’s weakness, saying, “The west’s values and interests have been positioned at the core of human society. This is a rule made by the west’s strength. If China becomes powerful and has the ability to maintain its own interests, it is bound to take actions.”
 
However, in reality it is currently quite busy and for some time has been heavily involved on many fronts in various ways; some rather furtive, but others bordering on the bullish.
 
What is seen by China as luring foreign parliamentarians or congress members has become a huge issue in Australia, with some scholars demanding a Royal Commission into the matter.
 
Universities have reported demands from Chinese enterprises and authorities for changes in syllabuses and Chinese students have stooped to the level of throwing newspapers they don’t like out of shops onto the pavement.
 
China has a long record on censorship dating back to Old Testament times, but since the rise to power of the Communist Party, successive leaders, including Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping have tightened it considerably, with the current administration of Xi Jinping giving it a hitherto unknown finesse.
 
The Australian television programme, Four Corners, together with Fairfax Media revealed the extent of potential corruption caused by Chinese-Australian political donations on a huge scale to both sides of Australian major party politics in recent years.
 
However, the programme also points out that this shows up the weaknesses of both sides, as the remedies proposed are often too narrow and fail to address the necessary internal cultural change, perpetually blaming outsiders for internal failings and shortcomings.
 
Such behaviour on either side of the fence reflects systemic decay and the dismissive words of the Global Times saying that hardly anyone reads the China Quarterly anyway so what does it matter, reflect an inability to order its own house, as it is not the volume of readership, but the significance of those who do read the articles that is at stake.
 
While Barmé maintains that although until recently it was generally accepted the while you were not entitled to your own facts, you were entitled to you own opinion, now the question is about power play and the winner will take some time to emerge.
 
But the game at the bookie shops is a one-sided one, as he notes, “The Communist Party-State plays a long game, the problem is it only allows its readers to bet on one side.”

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