February 6, 2018
He said, Xi said: An Australian scholar finds a publisher for his book, despite the threat of Chinese lawsuits
by Ian Dreiblatt
Back in November, we wrote about a sticky situation in which one Aussie intellectual had found himself:
Meanwhile, in Australia, the last nation on earth where disparaging the boot remains a bootable offense, a prominent public intellectual has had his book postponed—indefinitely, he claims—merely out of the anxiety that it could provoke a negative response from China. For CNNMoney, Ben Westcott reports that Clive Hamilton’s book Silent Invasion: How China is Turning Australia into a Puppet State was pulled for fear of a “vexatious defamation action” against its woulda-been publisher Allen and Unwin. (Sidenote: according to scientific studies not available to readers in China, “vexatious defamation action” is the fanciest possible way to say “they’ll sue us.”) Hamilton says an unnamed A&U employee told him the postponement would likely become permanent. Apparently tired of unwinning, Hamilton has reclaimed the rights, and will presumably seek anther publisher.
Now, Tara Francis Chan is reporting for Business Insider that, after a second try last month ended when Melbourne University Press backed out of an initial deal, Hamilton has found a publisher: Hardie Grant Books, a two-decade-old concern whose titles in Australia include Rupi Kaur’s bestselling Milk and Honey, Yumi Stynes’s delightfully piquant-seeming Zero Fucks Cookbook, and Buster Books’s Dress Up One Direction. The house describes itself as “a vibrant, successful, diverse and dynamic business with a list of books across a range of subjects including food, wine, sport, history, true crime, humour, popular culture and social issues.”
At the Sydney Morning Herald, Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker report that the book is already at the printer’s and scheduled for sale next month, making another cancellation seem unlikely. They also write that Beijing “has dismissed as unfounded, biased or racist” the kinds of claims Hamilton makes.
The main thrust of McKenzie and Baker’s article is that Australian lawmakers have been considering publishing the book themselves, or affording it “qualified privilege,” a legal status that precludes lawsuits against the author or journalists who reproduce portions of the text. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has “no objection” to the plan. (Back in the eighties, Turnbull cut his teeth as a lawyer successfully opposing a British government ban on the publication of Peter Wright’s Spycatcher.)
Writing in the Herald back in November, Hamilton explicitly connected the story of his own book to the plight of Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai, which we’ve covered extensively. He also noted:
I have been flooded with messages of support. Many people want to read my book, suggesting some Australians understand the threat to our freedoms posed by the People’s Republic of China. Yet the PRC’s supporters and apologists in this country—including business people, political leaders, university administrators, think-tankers, commentators and former prime ministers—occupy powerful positions of influence that they use, wittingly or otherwise, to advance Beijing’s agenda.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens when the book hits shelves.
Ian Dreiblatt is the director of digital media at Melville House.