A Chinese-born Australian academic has been stopped by Chinese officials from boarding a flight home to Australia after a three-week visit in China.

Professor Feng Chongyi (馮崇義) was questioned by China’s public security bureau for “involvement in a threat to national security” and has been restricted from leaving the country. However, Chinese officials did not give him a concrete reason nor provide him with any legal documents, Feng’s lawyer told Hong Kong Apple Daily.

Feng has received funding from the Australian Research Council to work on a project about Chinese human rights lawyers and was visiting China for research. He was said to be meeting academics and rights lawyers in Beijing and other cities. Feng was first held for questioning in Kunming, the provincial capital of southwestern Yunnan Province, before being barred from boarding a flight to Sydney at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport on Friday morning, reported Taipei Times.

The academic's latest research focuses on “intellectual and political changes leading to constitutional democracy in China.” As the head of China Studies at University of Technology Sydney (UTS) for 11 years, he has been outspoken about Beijing’s political influence in Chinese communities in Australia and Chinese government propaganda.

Yesterday, UTS released a statement saying university staff had been in contact with Feng, who had “assured the university that he is fine,” and had “freedom of movement in China and freedom of communications.”

In August 2016, he criticized a concert in Australia for propagandistic intentions on behalf of the Chinese government. He also traced the political and business ties of event sponsors to the Chinese. The concert was to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) death. He wrote, “Paying tribute to a brutal tyrant like Mao and promoting the violent political extremism represented by Maoism violates basic Australian values of multicultural democracy.” Feng further questioned the event saying, “Should lies about Mao and promotion of Maoism, which denies freedom of speech, be allowed as a legitimate part of free speech?”

Earlier in July that year, he also spoke about Beijing’s control over Chinese-language media in Australia. He said that the major cultural consumption in Australia’s Chinese community is still party propaganda as a result of media censorship. Comparing to his experience founding the Chinese-language newspaper Sydney Times in 2006, which was dissolved under pressure from Chinese officials, he said that "it's much worse now, because China has more money."

To Feng’s flight ban, Australian government officials said that they can only provide consular assistance to Australian citizens who have entered China on their Australian passport. Feng holds an Australian permanent residence status and entered China with his Chinese passport. Australia’s Justice Minister Michael Keenan said, "We'll continue to monitor the situation and remain in contact with Chinese authorities about it," as it seems to be few things they could do.

Former Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr today released a statement saying he was making representations in Beijing and Canberra about Feng’s case. Carr added that private representations may be more effective than “other approaches.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) war on dissent has intensified pressure on civil society, lawyers, journalists, and the entertainment industry, in a campaign that has primarily targeted the “pollution” of Western ideals over the past few years, said J. Michael Cole, a fellow with the University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute, in 2016 article.

Xi has been described by other academics as a very confident leader who feels morally righteous about his ideas and is determined to push as hard as he can. So “anyone or any state that challenges the views of the Chinese party-state is therefore an enemy of China and should be dealt with accordingly,” said Steve Tsang, professor of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham.

While censorship has proven an effective tool in reducing foreign influence in China, Beijing is now focused on creating an international echo chamber for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) said a 2016 report by the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS).

Editor: Edward White