OnePacificNews, July 4 2016, Monday

Amid a reported new round of tightening on academic freedom in China, around 50 scholars from some of its universities will be forced to miss this week’s triennial conference in the western Canadian city of Richmond to exchange research findings on Chinese communities around the world.

The scholars from China would have formed the largest international delegation to the ninth gathering of the International Society for the Study of Chinese Overseas (ISSCO) on July 6 to 8, said Henry Yu, a University of British Columbia history professor who is lead-organising the event.

While the exact reasons for the scholars’ abruptly cancelled trip may never be known, Mr Yu said he was told their applications for travel funding had been rejected even though their participation at the conference had long been approved and confirmed.

There’s talk that the government in Beijing has issued a call for Chinese scholars to help “reform the university, reduce foreign influence, and focus on developing local content”, said Mr Yu. An immediate consequence is a cutback in foreign travel and participation by Chinese scholars and researchers in international events this year.

The absence of what should have been a large Chinese delegation at ISSCO IX will be a major talking point as it will add to the discussion — and speculation — about Beijing’s recent foreign policy decisions and their impact on Chinese living and working in other countries.

Of immediate concern to the conference’s host country are reports that Beijing is refusing to recognise the passports and citizenship of Chinese-Canadians born in Hongkong and China. In recent weeks, Beijing has been rejecting the passports of these Canadians travelling to mainland China while instructing them to apply for travel document as Chinese nationals. This could escalate into a diplomatic issue if Beijing is unable to explain and retract its decision not to recognise the Canadian passport and for treating other nationals as its own.

The dispute will add to Canadians’ growing negative perception of China as a bully with an unpredictable tendency to impose its rules on other countries. Beijing has unilaterally staked claims on a large part of the South China Sea at the expense of smaller countries in Southeast Asia while Chinese police have abducted book publishers in Hongkong and Thailand for interrogation on the mainland.

Despite the loss of the Chinese delegation, Mr Yu said the conference, “Emerging Identities: Contemporary and Historical Chinese Migrations,” will attract a still sizeable attendance of around 200 researchers from Canada and other countries, and 100 local community leaders.

The international scholars will present papers on contemporary and historical topics about the Chinese community in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, New Zealand, the UK, Europe, the US, Panama, Costa Rica, Cuba, Jamaica, Mexico, Africa and Latin America. The topics will cover a range of topics including acts of racist violence, discriminatory legislation and integration challenges experienced by the Chinese in their respective host countries, migration patterns, economic activities and identity politics.

Canadian scholars will make presentations covering institutional racism against Asian migrants in the late 19th and early 20th century, and the British Columbia provincial government’s formal apology in 2014 for past anti-Chinese legislation.

Two UBC scholars, Lisi Feng and Xiong Gu, will each separately address identity issues faced by the diverse ethnic Chinese community in Canada. Mr Yu will present his research findings on the migration patterns of the Cantonese to Canada. Chris Lee will discuss the works of the Belgian-Chinese writer Han Suyin who is enjoying a revival among scholars of Asian literature following her death in 2012.

Delegates will have a first-hand feel of Richmond’s rapid growth over the past two decades due in large part to the migration of wealthy Chinese. They will be briefed on Richmond’s transformation as Canada’s only city where people of Chinese descent now form the majority ethnic group.

ISSCO was established in 1992 to promote research and understanding of the historical and contemporary experiences of Chinese migrants and their descendants living outside mainland China, Hongkong, Macao and Taiwan.

Mr Yu, who attended the inaugural event and ISSCO’s launch in San Francisco, said its main founder, the renowned Chinese scholar Wang Gungwu, who turns 86 later this year, will make the long trip from Singapore to be at this year’s conference. Professor Wang, chairman of the Singapore-based East Asian Institute, Wang Ling‐Chi and a group of scholars founded ISSCO to provide a platform for the regular exchange of research and information on the Chinese diaspora.

ISSCO IX will be the second to be held in North America since the organisation’s launch. The other seven conferences were held in Hongkong, the Philippines, Taiwan, Denmark, China, Singapore and Malaysia.

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