Public address: On influence activities of the People's Republic of China

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Chinese flag. Source: Pixabay

Influence activity pursued by the People's Republic of China is a threat to academic and press freedoms. A public letter to the Riigikogu, government, boards of Estonian universities, independent research institutions, journalistic publications and all scientists, teachers, journalists, culture workers and politicians in Estonia.

The growing and expanding global influence activity of the People's Republic of China aimed at academic Chinese studies and the free press' coverage of events in China has become obvious and echoed loudly in the media and monitoring reports.

China has targeted researchers, journalists and institutions whose activities it regards as hostile. This chiefly concerns sensitive topics for China, such as repressions – that some believe to exhibit tokens of genocide – in Tibet, Inner Mongolia and East Turkestan (Xinjiang),1 limitations on freedom of religion in the entire country,2 ignoring the principles of rule of law in Hong Kong3 etc.

Methods used include surveillance and tailing of researchers and journalists, direct intimidation, sanctions, expulsion, visa bans, misinformation but also enticement and bribery.

We would like to draw attention to incidents from all over the world that have merited broader media coverage.

1. Chinese sanctions against ten EU politicians and researchers and four institutions that comprise an entry ban, including to Hong Kong and Macau and a prohibition on business also applied to associated persons and companies.4

2. Journalists working in China being followed, their work obstructed and ultimately expelled. At least 18 foreign journalists have been expelled from China in the last year.5

3. Oxford University obligating its students to submit papers anonymously to protect mostly students from Hong Kong from possible repressions by Chinese authorities, which possibility has been provided by the so-called Hong Kong national security act from last year.6

Based on these examples, we find that Estonia cannot and must not retain its passive and non-committal position regarding China's growing pressure and influence activities as small countries are most vulnerable here.7

Estonia must, through policy and working together with EU and other countries, create and ensure capacity to continually monitor Chinese influence activities and take rapid countermeasures, protect its citizens and foreigners studying and working here, especially students from Hong Kong and Macau, and ensure academic freedom in China studies.

For that purpose, we urge the following:

1. For all Estonian students, scientists and teachers, as well as heads of universities and research institutions to carry out and organize scientific research and academic discussion on China freely, without censorship and self-censorship and without allowing Chinese authorities to influence research in whatever public or covert manner that could sway research results and restrict academic freedom in general.

2. For all Estonian journalists and media publications to remain vigilant and react to any and all official and informal attempts by China to assert influence, demand and ensure access to all necessary sources of information on China.

3. For the government to invest more in Chinese studies to create increased and comprehensive capacity to understand China and disseminate objective information about the country, including by boosting government agencies' cooperation with scientists.

4. For the Riigikogu to work with universities and research institutions, think tanks and experts to develop an integral and up-to-date China policy that would create a legal framework for quickly and effectively responding to Chinese influence activity the latter pursues using digital tools, economic activity and academic cooperation, as well as intelligence and lobbying efforts of Chinese citizens and other national and non-national public and covert activities.

Signed:

Märt Läänemets, orientalist-sinologist, president of the Estonian Academic Oriental Society
Iverson Ng, columnist
Urmas Hõbepappel, analyst
Martti Kalda, orientalist, translator, radio host
Henn Käärik, University of Tartu docent emeritus
Kai Vassiljeva, translator
Teet Toome, orientalist
Indrek Ude, executive editor of the Akadeemia magazine
Alevtina Solovyeva, PhD
Mart Tšernjuk, sinologist
Katja Koort, lector of Chinese studies at Tallinn University
Peeter Espak, assistant professor at the University of Tartu Center for Oriental Studies, director of NGO Institute for Societal Studies
Arvo Tõnisoo, physicist
Mihkel Kunnus, semiotician and culturologist
Ülo Valk, folklorist
Lidia Leontjeva, translator
Vladimir Sazonov, orientalist
Eiki Berg, professor of international relations at the University of Tartu
Jaak Valge, University of Tartu assistant professor, MP
Peeter Vähi, composer, ethnomusicologist
Artur Laast, historian-Turkologist
Urmas Reinsalu, MP
Tarmo Kulmar, University of Tartu professor emeritus of comparative theology
Roy Strider, Tibet support effort coordinator in Estonia
Tuuli Stewart, adviser to Club of Rome Estonia, entrepreneur
Arho Tuhkru, pastor
Juku-Kalle Raid, editor-in-chief of monthly newspaper KesKus
Berk Vaher, chairman of the Tartu office of the Estonian Writers Union
Riho Altnurme, University of Tartu professor of church history
Liina Lukas, University of Tartu docent
Tiit Aleksejev, writer
Erkki Bahovski, Postimees opinion editor
Joanna Ellmann, poet
Erki Lind, culture and religion historian
Sven Grünberg, composer
Kaur Riisma, writer
Kristina Viin, theology postgraduate, member of the Estonian Academic Oriental Society
Jaan Lahe, scientist, teacher and clergyman, member of the Estonian Academic Oriental Society
Ivar Tröner, culturologist
Mart Kangur, poet and translator, member of the Estonian Writers Union
Valle-Sten Maiste, culture journalist
Harri Ints, psychologist
Anne Lange, Tallinn University docent of translation studies
Laur Järv, physicist
Hagani Gayibli, writer-Turkologist
Janika Kronberg, scholar of literature, writer
Elli Marie Tragel, semiotics postgraduate
Peeter Sauter, freelance literary man
Arvo Valton, writer
Markus Vetemaa, marine biologist
Kristjan Sander, archeologist
Holger Kaints, writer, member of the Estonian Writers Union and the PEN Club
Ants Miller (Siim Veskimees), writer
Andreas Johandi, University of Tartu research fellow of theology
Yoko Alender, MP, chairwoman of the Riigikogu Tibet Support Group
Jüri Saar, University of Tartu professor emeritus
Andres Herkel, foreign desk editor, member of the Estonian Academic Oriental Society
Leho Rubis, artist and musician
Martin A. Noorkõiv, executive manager of the Domus Dorpatensis Foundation
Karin Kaup Lapõnin, IT entrepreneur
Ruuben Kaalep, MP
Urmas Reitelmann, MP
Mait Vaik, writer-physicist
Meelis Papp, doctor
Imar Koutchoukali, Tallinn University lecturer
Toomas Raudam, writer
Eve Lukk, creative/music therapist
Tarmo Kruusimäe, MP, chairman of the Riigikogu Hong Kong support group

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1https://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2020/09/china-tibet-and-the-uighurs-a-pattern-of-genocide/
2https://bitterwinter.org/category/china/
3https://freedomhouse.org/report/policy-brief/2019/democratic-crisis-hong-kong-recommendations-policymakers
4https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/t1863106.shtml
5https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/madagascar/96143/china-statement-spokesperson-departure-bbc%E2%80%99s-china-correspondent-and-presence-foreign_en
6https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/sep/28/oxford-moves-to-protect-students-from-chinas-hong-kong-security-law
7https://efpi.icds.ee/chinas-influence-activities-in-estonia/

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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