By: Sarah Kirchberger

What is the kernel of the issue?

Chinese entities have, in recent years, begun to sue critical China scholars worldwide for “defamation.” Scholars have been sued for pointing out security concerns over 5G infrastructure; for uncovering evidence of human rights violations in Xinjiang; and for speaking out against Chinese intimidation of Taiwan. Regardless of the accusations’ typical lack of legal merit, the affected individuals have to bear the cost of their legal representation, and the lawsuits can stretch on for years.

Why is the issue important?

Years-long litigation causes the affected individuals significant financial and psychological harm. Furthermore, it deters other scholars from researching the same controversial topics and presenting their findings in public, to the detriment of the public’s right to free and accurate information. If not countered, the result will be self-censorship by many scholars. This will be viewed as encouragement by China and other autocratic countries who aim to censor discourse abroad, leading to an increased use of this harmful practice.

What is the recommendation?

The Biden administration should lead on creating, together with democratic partners worldwide, a fund that provides researchers who become the victims of “legal warfare” the means to cover their legal defense. This would immediately remove one of the most harmful effects of this practice. Further, the administration should provide assistance to such scholars during the litigation, including recommending specialized lawyers; declaring the researched topics to be of interest to national security; providing moral support to the individuals in public statements; and raising this issue repeatedly with Chinese counterparts.