Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin attends a news conference in Beijing, China December 14, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas…
FILE - Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin addresses reporters in Beijing, Dec.14, 2020. The ministry recently revealed sanctions against Mercator Institute for China Studies in Germany, Alliance of Democracies Foundation in Denmark and others.

WASHINGTON - Hundreds of academics and intellectuals around the world are signing onto a joint statement in support of European colleagues who have been banned by Beijing from visiting China and hit with other sanctions because of their work.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry announced the sanctions last week against the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Germany, the Alliance of Democracies Foundation in Denmark and other individuals and institutions, accusing them of actions that “severely harm China's sovereignty and interests and maliciously spread lies and disinformation.”

In announcing the move, the ministry made clear it was reacting to sanctions announced earlier this month by Britain and the European Union over China’s treatment of the Uyghur minority in its western Xinjiang region.

Now, scholars across the United States, Europe and Asia are adding their names to a fast-growing list of signatories to a statement of solidarity with their sanctioned colleagues.

A similar statement has been signed by 37 directors of research institutes in Europe.

“It is troubling enough that the [Chinese government and Chinese Communist Party] under Xi Jinping have sought to silence discussion of any topics that they deem controversial among scholars within China, including Xinjiang and now Hong Kong,” said Princeton University professor Martin S. Flaherty, one of nearly 1,000 academics in Europe, North America and Asia who have signed the current statement so far.

Sanctions issued against members of the academic community represent an attempt to “likewise silence scholars outside China,” he wrote in response to written questions from VOA.

Among those hit by the Chinese sanctions are Jo Smith Finley, a social anthropologist and political scientist at Newcastle University in Britain; Adrian Zenz, a German scholar at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation; and Björn Jerdén, who heads Sweden’s National China Center.

In Washington, four scholars at one of America’s leading think tanks, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), have weighed in with their own statement in support of the Mercator Institute.

Matt Pottinger, U.S. deputy national security adviser under President Donald Trump, now a distinguished visiting fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, is among the signatories of the Solidarity Statement. Pottinger himself was among 20 plus American officials Beijing issued sanctions against towards the end of the Trump administration.

“If China’s precondition for stable relations with the West is that scholars all agree with Beijing’s position on Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, other ‘red lines,’ and its broader narrative — regardless of where or in which language the opinions are shared — then China is unfortunately choosing to close the door to genuine scholarly exchange,” their statement said.

In a telephone interview with VOA, Matthew P. Goodman, one of the four scholars at CSIS who co-authored the statement, described the Berlin-based think tank as a highly respected, “thoughtful” institution, with which he and his colleagues have often collaborated on research.

Goodman and his colleagues are concerned about the sanctions' impact on not just the Mercator projects, but on the researchers themselves.

“This is going to have a significant impact on them, beyond them not being able to travel to China. Their reputation is at stake, their relationship with other parties could be affected by this, their funding. It’s a serious issue for them,” Goodman said.

“I can’t speak to what this is going to do to them operationally. In terms of their attitude, I’m guessing it’s not going to stop them from continuing to do their research and say what they think,” Goodman said.

Goodman served as director for international economics on the National Security Council staff before joining CSIS in 2012. He is currently senior vice president for economics and holds the Simon Chair in Political Economy at the think tank. Three other prominent scholars on China — Scott Kennedy, Bonnie S. Glaser and Jude Blanchette — co-authored the CSIS statement.

“There’s been a lot of buzz about this — not just about our piece, but this development in Europe and then [the] U.K. I think a lot of scholars are [not only] troubled by those actions by Beijing, but also by those things we touched on in our piece,” Goodman said.

Princeton’s Flaherty noted that while the EU and the United States sanctioned Chinese officials for participation in gross violations of international law, “China is silencing academics simply for saying things that the government and party don't like.” That effort, he said, needs to be called out.

“I signed the letter first and foremost to uphold the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression.”