By Eugene Smith
The Chinese Embassy to the UK has allegedly warned Durham’s debating society against allowing Anastasia Lin, a Chinese-Canadian actress and advocate for freedom of expression, to speak in an upcoming debate.
In a phone-call transcript leaked to Buzzfeed News, an embassy official is claimed to have said: “For Lin coming here we put [sic] some serious concern about this debate.
“Especially after the UK leaves [sic] the European Union, the prime minister has visited China and reconfirmed that China and the UK are seeking globally strategic collaborations. We don’t think that this kind of debating would make any contribution to these [sic] kind of relationship. So we thought that we would just let you know that.
“Take a second and think between this debating and the more grand background of UK-China relations.”
Ms Lin, a former Miss World Canada contestant who was born in China, is due to speak in a debate tonight entitled “This House sees China as a threat to the West,” alongside a panel of other speakers that includes former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Chinese analyst Jonathan Fenby, and Ben Harris-Quinney of the conservative Bow Group think tank.
When questioned on the phone call, a Chinese official told Buzzfeed News: “Anastasia Lin is known to be a Falun Gong supporter. Falun Gong is a cult which has been fabricating and spreading the rumour of so-called ‘organ harvesting’ in China. China has strict laws and regulations on transplants. We hope that the British public will not be misled by Falun Gong’s lies nor provide platform [sic] for its deceptive tricks.”
Ms Lin, who was denied a visa to attend the Miss World 2015 contest by the Chinese authorities, responded to the reports by saying: “The Chinese government have shown through their actions that they are ‘a threat’ to our freedom of expression. It’s not enough that for them to stifle their own citizens’ voices, they are reaching beyond borders to try to silence us here in the West.”
Meanwhile, a representative of the Durham University Chinese Students and Scholars Association reportedly wrote in an email that: “Our members find both the topic and the guest [the Union Society] invited a violation of the belief and feelings of Chinese students. Anastasia Lin has been banned by the Chinese government and she is obviously not an appropriate person to be invited to debate in a topic like this, which put China in a position to be discriminated.
“Hereby we sincerely ask you to cancel this debate on behalf of the majority of Chinese students in Durham University.”
A spokesperson for the University affirmed its code of practice relating to freedom of expression, saying: “Under the circumstances, we have raised no objection to Anastasia Lin taking part in a public debate although this does not, of course, mean that the university takes any particular view on the debate topic.”
When asked by Palatinate, the Union Society declined to comment.
Photograph: Peter Bonnett