China bars prof from flying home to Sydney

Australia-based academic interrogated, not allowed to board plane twice: Sources

BEIJING/SYDNEY • The Chinese authorities have blocked an Australia-based academic from boarding a flight home, Australia said yesterday, after sources said he was repeatedly interrogated over his links to liberal intellectuals in China.

The case of long-serving University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Associate Professor Feng Chongyi comes just as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang winds up a five-day official visit to Canberra and Sydney, espousing free trade and closer economic ties between Australia and China.

Prof Feng, an Australian permanent resident, entered China three weeks ago. He was held for questioning in Kunming, provincial capital of south-western Yunnan, earlier last week, before being barred from a flight to Sydney at Guangzhou's international airport last Friday morning, two sources said.

He is travelling with his wife, who is an Australian national.

Prof Feng then requested help from the Australian authorities, and felt confident his case had been resolved and that he would be free to travel, one of the sources said.

However, he was again notified that he was on a no-fly list when he attempted to board a second flight home the next day.

"The Australian government is aware that a UTS professor, who is an Australian permanent resident, has been prevented from leaving China," said a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade yesterday.

"According to the Australia-China consular treaty, the Australian government is able to provide consular assistance only to Australian citizens who have entered China on their Australian passports."

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Public Security did not immediately reply to queries.

Prof Feng, who was head of China Studies at UTS for 11 years, is well-known in academic circles for his research into contemporary politics, the growth of rights consciousness and democratic forces in mainland China. He has been vocal in Australian media over what he and numerous other China experts consider as Beijing's increasing attempts to influence Australian politics and exert control over the Chinese-language media.

It is understood that, as of yesterday morning, Prof Feng remained free to move around within China and was not physically detained.

Since coming to power, President Xi Jinping has presided over a sweeping crackdown on dissent that has seen hundreds of rights lawyers detained or questioned, sending a chill through intellectual, academic, art and journalistic circles.

But Prof Feng's ordeal represents a rare, if not the first, instance of a prominent foreign-university academic being subjected to the same treatment.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2017, with the headline 'China bars prof from flying home to Sydney'. Print Edition | Subscribe