Chinese scholars’ exclusion from Australia not a ‘blunder’

The country would not cancel the visas of Chinese academics without good reason, says banned Australian academic Clive Hamilton

September 24, 2020
Clive Hamilton
Clive Hamilton, professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University

The high-profile Australian academic reportedly banned from China is “reserving judgement” about Canberra’s recent decision to ban two similarly high-profile Chinese academics from Australia.

Clive Hamilton, professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University and a noted critic of the Chinese Communist Party, said he was open-minded about Australia’s reasons for cancelling the visas of two scholars who run Australian studies centres in Beijing and Shanghai.

Canberra revoked the visas of the two men – Li Jianjun of Beijing Foreign Studies University and Chen Hong of East China Normal University – reportedly because of adverse security assessments against them by Australian security agency Asio, which has refused to comment on the matter.

China’s state-owned Global Times tabloid linked the ban on Professor Hamilton and his former researcher Alex Joske with Canberra’s earlier action against Mr Li and Professor Chen.

Professor Hamilton said he did not know either of the banned Chinese scholars but was familiar with the work of Professor Chen, a translator who regularly criticises Australia’s China policy as a Global Times contributor.

“The fact that Chen Hong says some outrageous and insulting things about Australia [is] not grounds for kicking him out of the country,” Professor Hamilton said. “I don’t believe the government would do it on that basis.”

Australian newspaper reports have suggested that Professor Chen and Mr Li were excluded over their social media connections with a parliamentarian who is under Asio investigation. The two were members of a WeChat network that Mr Li has described as “simply a friendly social chat group”.

“I’m sure it goes well beyond that,” Professor Hamilton said. “Given the situation Australia is in and the extreme sensitivity, I don’t believe Asio would just blunder into this and kick people out without very good reasons. I’m reserving judgement until we have an understanding of the reasons for each of them being kicked out.”

The episode represents a new low in academic links between the two countries. Professor Hamilton said that while Western Sinologists had been banned from entering China previously because of their research, the phenomenon had taken on a “childish” element.

“Australia takes measures to protect its national security and sovereignty from foreign influence, and Beijing feels it must match whatever Australia does. It’s not diplomacy; it’s vindictiveness.”

But Professor Chen insisted that the cancellation of his visa had not triggered a “tit-for-tat act of retaliation” against Professor Hamilton and Mr Joske. “They are not individual academics but actors of the smear and slander campaign in Australia against China,” Professor Chen told the Global Times. “The travel ban reflects China’s refusal to subject itself to such connivance of denigration under the guise of scholarly work.”

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Scholars barred as diplomatic tension mounts

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