In March 2022, Chinese authorities prevented at least five scholars based in China from virtually attending and participating in the Association for Asian Studies’ (AAS) 2022 Annual Conference.
The international conference ran on an in-person/virtual hybrid format from March 24-27 in Honolulu, Hawaii, in the United States. Several individuals with direct knowledge of the incident informed National Public Radio (NPR) that Chinese security and education authorities “directly intervened” in the scholars’ scheduled participation, “citing education regulations published during a global coronavirus pandemic which require all Chinese scholars to receive university permission to attend any international event in-person or online.” In one instance, Chinese police reportedly interrogated one of the scholars for hours at their home after they presented their research paper to an online panel earlier in the week. After privately reviewing the paper, NPR stated that it “did not touch on subjects which Chinese authorities normally consider sensitive.”
In a brief statement released shortly after the conference concluded, the AAS Board of Directors acknowledged that it knew some scholars based in China “were pressured into withdrawing from their scheduled online presentations” and relayed that AAS was investigating the matter.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by the arbitrary prevention of scholars’ participation in an academic conference, denying them their academic freedom, which is protected by international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which China is a signatory. State authorities have an obligation to respect academic freedom and to refrain from imposing arbitrary restrictions that limit academic activity and exchange. Such restrictions deter academic activity and undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.