China claims not to interfere with the internal affairs of other countries, but many are now alarmed by its efforts to enforce its own brand of totalitarian censorship on other countries, with several recent cases highlighted.
The BBC describes how the Chinese consulate brazenly “urged” the International Film Festival, held recently in Melbourne, to ban a film about a Uighur critic.
The director of the festival was shocked by this official attempt to censor the event:
“It came down to [the consular official] saying we need to justify our decision to include the film in the programme. It was a remarkable display of confidence and arrogance.”
The festival went ahead and included the film, but was then mysteriously subjected to a sustained campaign of hacking, threats and spam, with some going so far to threaten the director’s family.
The hackers defaced the website with a Chinese flag, and other Chinese participants swiftly withdrew their films, leaving little doubt as to where the trouble originated.
Although interest in the film actually increased dramatically following the fracas, the intimidation still made the event organisers reconsider how they include such films in the future.
Another similar case was documented at the recent Frankfurt Book Fair – the event was told to ban two dissident writers, which it initially did but then backtracked on. When they were finally allowed, their participation triggered a walkout by part of the Chinese delegation.
China even complains about nations allowing critics to enter their countries, having recently told Japan it should not allow the Uighur dissident over whose film it was so concerned to enter the country.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry says such actions do not constitute interference:
“I believe the Chinese government has not violated the principle of interfering in others’ internal affairs.”
A Chinese environmental campaigner, one of the writers China attempted to ban from the fair, explains bluntly:
“China is using its economic influence to threaten its trade partners in order to censor what they don’t like.”
With such a ruthless, corrupt and headstrong (or quite possibly terrified) government, such tactics are unsurprising, but with so many companies vulnerable to commericial blackmail stemming from their desperation to do business in or with China, the real scale of the problem could be much larger – how many such companies or even governments would be willing to publish or support opinions critical of China’s government if they had to forego commercial or political relations as a result?