China scholars warn espionage bill puts research at risk

Senior China scholars have spoken out against the government’s espionage and foreign interference bill, which “will imperil” academics contributions to policy debate. And they warn the debate on Chinese Government influence “has created an atmosphere ill-suited to the judicious balancing of national security interests with the protection of civil liberties.”

In a  submission to the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security’s review of the legislation some 31 scholars of China and the Chinese Diaspora say they “see no evidence … that China is exporting its political system to Australia, or that its actions aim at compromising our sovereignty.”

The signatories, including first ambassador to Beijing Stephen Fitzgerald also “strongly reject” “any claim that the community of Australian experts on Chinas, to which we belong, has been intimidated or bought off by pro-Peoples Republic of China interests.”

And they warn the legislation threatens research by criminalising the receiving of information deemed harmful to the national interest. “While exemptions have been proposed for journalists, this does nothing to assuage our concern that the freedom of scholars to fulfil their public function will be threatened by these laws,” they say.

The scholars also argue that debate around the legislation is placing Chinese-Australians under undue pressure. “The complex political landscape of Chinese Australia is not reducible to a simplistic “pro” or “anti-Beijing” binary. Yet, if the debate continues to be conducted in these terms, with commentators speculating as to the supposed divided loyalties of Chinese Australians, or contemplating punitive measures to restrict the rights of those identified as “pro-Beijing” we run the risk of creating just such a polarisation.”


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