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International relationsNational security Australia 26 March On Monday 19 March, a group of 30 scholars of China and the Chinese diaspora submitted the following statement as a late submission to the parliamentary review of new national security legislation.
It is published here as an open letter. We wish to express our disagreement with some of the key claims that have been raised in the course of this discussion of Chinese influence in Australia. The threat to intellectual freedom A healthy media environment relies on the participation of scholars to contribute their expertise, particularly in fields such as ours which cultivate specific regional knowledge.
We view our contributions as part of our role as scholars and educators. We are alarmed that the new legislation would criminalise the simple act of receiving information deemed harmful to the national interest, let alone discussing it in public.
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. The debate on Chinese influence An important element of the background to this legislation is the debate on Chinese influence in Australia.
Unfortunately, we believe prevailing trends in the public discussion of China have not met these expectations.
We strongly reject any claim that the community of Australian experts on China, to which we belong, has been intimidated or bought off by pro-PRC interests. We situate ourselves in a strong Australian tradition of critical engagement with the Chinese political system, and it is precisely our expertise on China that leads us to be sceptical of key claims of this discourse.
We see no evidence, for example, that China is intent on exporting its political system to Australia, or that its actions aim at compromising our sovereignty. We believe the parliament would be wrong to be guided by such assumptions in its debate on these laws.
Too often, though, the media narrative in Australia singles out the activities of individuals and organisations thought to be linked to the Chinese state and isolates them from a context of comparable activity, engaged in by a range of parties among them our allies.
In doing so it puts a sensational spin on facts and events. Instead of a narrative of an Australian society in which the presence of China is being felt to a greater degree in series of disparate fields, we are witnessing the creation of a racialised narrative of a vast official Chinese conspiracy.
The discourse is couched in such a way as to encourage suspicion and stigmatisation of Chinese Australians in general. The alarmist tone of this discourse impinges directly on our ability to deal with questions involving China in the calm and reasoned way they require.
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Already it is dissuading Chinese Australians from contributing to public debate for fear of being associated with such a conspiracy. Chinese in Australia, whether citizens of our country or not, expect and deserve the same freedoms as anyone else in our democratic system: Whether a scholar at an Australian university, or a student from the PRC, Hong Kong, or Taiwan, all should be able to express their point of view without it being dismissed by accusations that they speak on behalf of hostile foreign interests.
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To the extent that the Chinese Communist Party seeks to infringe on these rights to freedom of expression, appropriate steps may be required.
But any such foreign influence, where it might exist, is not the only, or even the primary, reason for the shortage of Chinese voices in Australian public life.
We should be vigilant that public discourse in Australia does not create undue pressure on one particular section of our society to demonstrate its loyalty to Australia at the expense of its freedom to criticise Australian policies and actions. We call on all those involved in the debate to work towards this end.
Such an informed debate should form part of the much wider public consultation that we believe is necessary surrounding these laws, and we ask that the draft legislation be withdrawn until such time as that consultation can occur. Policy Forum has offered us the opportunity to update the list of signatories again in future, so any colleagues still interested in adding their name should contact David Brophy.
We welcome endorsements from scholars of China and the Chinese diaspora working in Australia, as well as Australian scholars in these fields working abroad.
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