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Second academic journal pressed to censor China content

AFP , Tuesday 22 Aug 2017
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A computer screen shows an online petition page urging Cambridge University Press to restore more than 300 politically sensitive articles removed from its website in China after a request from authorities, in Beijing, Monday, Aug. 21, 2017 (Photo: AP)
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A second academic journal has received requests to censor content in China, following an international outcry after Cambridge University Press temporarily agreed to block sensitive articles from another publication under pressure from Beijing.

The US-based Association for Asian Studies said Tuesday that China's General Administration of Press and Publications had asked CUP, its online publisher, to remove 100 articles from the Journal of Asian Studies.

It was the second time in days that a journal published by CUP, the world's oldest publishing house, revealed that it had received such a demand from China.

"The officers of the association are extremely concerned about this violation of academic freedom, and the AAS is in ongoing discussions with CUP about how it will respond to the Chinese government," the association said in a statement on its website.

It added that no articles had been removed from CUP web search results in China.

"We oppose censorship in any form and continue to promote a free exchange of academic research among scholars around the world," it said.

The statement came after CUP blocked and then, under intense pressure from international academics, restored access to hundreds of articles on its website from the journal China Quarterly, including many about the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, the status of Tibet and the Chinese democracy movement.

The initial decision was taken "reluctantly" following a "clear order" from CUP's Chinese importer, the publisher said in a statement, adding it was a "temporary measure" pending discussion with the university's academic leadership and the importer.

But the censorship of the digital version of a respected scholarly journal outraged international scholars, who saw it as a curb on academic freedom and an attempt to censor history.

Christopher Balding, economics professor at Peking University in Shenzhen, China, swiftly launched a Change.org petition calling on the CUP to "refuse the censorship request", provoking a quick turnaround from CUP.

The Chinese authorities tightly control the internet within a vast censorship system known as the "Great Firewall", and they have enforced new rules on what is permissible content in recent weeks, from news to celebrity gossip and video streaming.

Cambridge University posted a statement in Chinese about its decision on its official account on Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter.

The announcement was quickly deleted, but it had already been met with thousands of reposts and comments praising the decision to restore the articles.

"Well done," one commenter wrote. "I don't know how long your Weibo can live, but I have to say your spirit is independent and your thought is free. A dictatorial government is truly terrible."

"What are (we) afraid of?" asked another. "If (we) doubt the credibility of their articles we can refute them!"

Asked about CUP's decision on Tuesday, China's foreign ministry declined to comment, saying the issue was not related to diplomacy.

Cambridge University officials have said that they will discuss the issue with the importer at the Beijing Book Fair later this week.

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