Beijing Hinders Free Speech in the West

Beijing Hinders Free Speech in the West, by Wang Dan.

I spent nearly seven years in a Chinese prison for being a leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. I was freed in 1998, and the Chinese government let me leave the country. I chose to go to the United States, where I could freely speak my mind without fear of being thrown in prison. …

Given the long tradition of free speech in the United States, I assumed that the forums would fare even better in America, where some 329,000 Chinese students attend college. I hoped that public discussions of topics off-limits in China might challenge visiting Chinese students and encourage them to embrace Western democratic values.

But instead, over the past three months, my efforts on American campuses have been stymied. The Chinese Communist Party is extending its surveillance of critics abroad, reaching into Western academic communities and silencing visiting Chinese students. Through a campaign of fear and intimidation, Beijing is hindering free speech in the United States and in other Western countries.

The Chinese government, or people sympathetic to it, encourage like-minded Chinese students and scholars in the West to report on Chinese students who participate in politically sensitive activities — like my salons, but also other public forums and protests against Beijing. Members of the China Students and Scholars Association, which has chapters at many American universities, maintain ties with the Chinese consulates and keep tabs on “unpatriotic” people and activities on campuses. Agents or sympathizers of the Chinese government show up at public events videotaping and snapping pictures of speakers, participants and organizers.

Chinese students who are seen with political dissidents like me or dare to publicly challenge Chinese government policies can be put on a blacklist. Their families in China can be threatened or punished. …

And in one egregious example of intimidation, in March 2016, the police in China abducted the relatives of the Chinese journalist Chang Ping, who lives in exile in Germany, after he published an article in a German publication that was critical of President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on free speech.

Chinese students abroad hear these stories and, with good reason, tread carefully. Many have become too afraid to attend open forums like my salon, and those who do show up mostly keep a low profile. …

Chinese PC:

Nationalism is rampant in China and many students, who grew up subjected to the full force of the Chinese government’s “patriotic education program,” carry it abroad. They blame Western powers for causing a “century of humiliation” before the Communist takeover in 1949 and for instigating trouble and constraining China’s growth as a global power. These “patriotic” students and scholars team up with the Chinese consulates to sabotage protests critical of the Chinese government. Many resort to online harassment of Beijing’s critics. …

Australia:

The country’s growing influence abroad has received a lot of attention in Australia, where journalists have detailed how Chinese money has infiltrated the political process. Chinese students in Australia can come under heavy pressure and shaming from other nationalist Chinese students for criticizing Beijing.

Recently, Clive Hamilton, a professor of public ethics in Australia, said that his publisher delayed the release of a book of his that investigates the rising influence of the Chinese Communist Party in Australia for fear that the Chinese government may sue for defamation. We can be certain that Mr. Hamilton’s name has been added to a list of Western scholars who are banned from China, another common tactic used against outspoken China scholars whose work the Chinese government dislikes.