SCMP Wednesday, May 9, 2001


Explain the detentions of scholars, Mr Jiang

Dear President Jiang Zemin,
As scholars based in the Hong Kong SAR, we would like to express our deep concern over the prolonged detention of several scholars by the authorities in the past six months, including Li Shaomin, who teaches at the faculty of business of the City University of Hong Kong.
China's open-door policy since the late 1970s has paved the way for meaningful academic exchanges and high-quality scholarship in the field of China studies. Such exchanges and scholarship have contributed a great deal to the understanding between China and the international community at different levels. Scholars of Chinese origin have acted as a bridge in such two-way exchanges by narrowing the cultural and language gap. With China's imminent entry to the World Trade Organisation and the apparent commitment on the part of China's leadership to further economic, social and legal reforms, such exchanges and cross-cultural communication are becoming indispensable for the future success of China in the world of nations.
As scholars based in Hong Kong who have professional and personal ties with the mainland, we hope to continue to engage in such exchange and academic pursuits. It is against this background that we are deeply troubled by the recent spate of events involving detention of academic scholars on the mainland by mainland authorities.
We are also concerned by the secrecy and non-transparent procedures adopted by mainland authorities in the detention of these scholars. The failure to, in a timely fashion, inform the family members and specify charges justifying such detention has cast a shadow over the mainland's Criminal Procedure Law, which was widely regarded both at home and abroad as a milestone in China's quest for the rule of law.
The secrecy and non-transparent procedures associated with these incidents of detention have also made the international community seriously doubt the sincerity and commitment on the part of the Chinese Government to adhere to both the letter and spirit of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China signed in 1998.
The recent events have instilled fear and bewilderment in the international community of scholars of China studies. They have had a particularly strong impact on scholars based in Hong Kong who travel to the mainland regularly for professional and personal reasons. Many scholars have recently cancelled their trips to the mainland, and others have put on hold their planned academic projects to be conducted there. The negative impact on the international image of China and the scholarship on China studies may be felt for many years to come.
Given the vital role scholarly exchanges and scholarship have played in China's modernisation efforts and their continued importance for China's success in the world of nations, we respectfully urge the mainland authorities to indicate China's commitment to pursue the course of the rule of law, including guaranteeing academic freedom and free exchange of information in China, either by releasing those scholars immediately or by identifying with sufficient particulars the illegal acts alleged to have been carried out by them and according them meaningful rights in accordance with the letter and spirit of China's Criminal Procedure Law and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In addition, in order to alleviate concerns among scholars, we strongly urge the mainland authorities to issue clear and specific guidelines explaining what types of information-gathering exercises or activities in connection with academic field research in China will infringe the laws on national security.
This is an edited extract of a petition to President Jiang Zemin from more than 100 local scholars protesting the detention of academics travelling to the mainland.