An author has accused Australian publisher Allen & Unwin of dropping his book on China's influence on Australia in an act of self-censorship for fear of reprisals from Beijing.
Silent Invasion: How China Is Turning Australia into a Puppet State by Professor Clive Hamilton would have provided commentary discussing Chinese Communist Party influence in Australian politics and academia. But, according to its author, who is an academic at Charles Sturt University, Canberra, the plug was pulled in the likelihood the Chinese government would sue for defamation, thus marking "a watershed in the debate over China's suppression of free speech".
"This really is a watershed in the debate over China's suppression of free speech," Hamilton told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. "What we're seeing … is the first instance where a major Western publisher has decided to censor material of the Chinese Communist Party in its home country.
"The book is of enormous public interest, it will sell very well I expect, and we as Australians living in a free society should not allow ourselves to be bullied into silence by an autocratic foreign power."
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the publisher's chief executive, Robert Gorman, wrote in an email to Hamilton that the publisher was "an obvious target" for "Beijing's agents of influence". He said it was concerned about "potential threats to the book and the company from possible action by Beijing", clarifying that the "most serious of these threats was the very high chance of a vexatious defamation action against Allen & Unwin, and possibly against you [Hamilton] personally as well".
In a statement, Allen & Unwin has said it was delaying publication "until certain matters currently before the courts have been decided". "Clive was unwilling to delay publication and requested the return of his rights, as he is entitled to do," it added.
Hamilton told the FT he still hoped to publish the book, if he can find a publisher “with balls”.
The episode follows Chinese authorities' censorship of articles in a Cambridge University Press journal in August; CUP's compliance landed the academic publisher with a petition signed by hundreds, and it subsequently back-tracked on its original decision to block the articles. Earlier this month, in November, publisher Springer Nature followed suit by blocking access to 1,000 journal articles in China that contained politically sensitive keywords such as Tibet, Taiwan and Cultural Revolution to comply with local regulations.