Western world's double standards on free speech exposed

Gloria Sand
The West may claim moral authority when it comes to free speech and expression, but their double standards are thoroughly exposed when it comes to China-related matters.
Gloria Sand

What kind of freedom of expression does Europe intend to protect? This is a question I've asked myself countless times in the last few days.

I have a friend who is interested in philosophy and economics and enjoys organizing discussions where people with opposing viewpoints discuss and argue in a respectful, reasonable environment.

However, the day he decided to discuss China, his LinkedIn account was frozen without any explanations and, more importantly, without any options to reverse the action.

The LinkedIn article covered the most recent breakthroughs in the sphere of batteries for electric vehicles, a sector in which China has excelled and long maintained top performance standards.

Was censorship in play? To be honest, in France, where the debate was organized, there has always been room for diverse views, including the most radical.

However, when it comes to China, it is a different story. What is lacking is the freedom to discuss China in an objective, detached, analytical and serious manner. Indeed, more and more commentators who attempt to launch a serious discussion on important issues such as political, economic, strategic, or even cultural significance are immediately labeled as "emissaries of the Communist Party of China." As if navigating the complexities of Chinese institutions and bureaucracy was that simple.

The most frequently targeted social platforms are X (previously Twitter) and LinkedIn. There, a curious dynamic is now taking hold: Most of the voices advocating for a balanced debate try to articulate their ideas using complex arguments, data and official reports that are not published and disseminated by Chinese universities or think tanks, in order to avoid the now automatic association: "You read Chinese sources, you spread CPC propaganda."

Nowadays, it appears that trying to be balanced, nuanced and professional means serving Chinese propaganda in both Europe and the United States.

In fact, when it comes to discussion, being angular, derisive, and capable of crushing more or less sophisticated analyses with stoned "what you are arguing is not true" with no additional explanations is not only acceptable but even convincing.

Despite the fact that this is a true illustration of reverse propaganda, no perpetrator seems to notice that fact, and, of course, no one dares to condemn this attitude.

The aim here is not so much to favor one point of view over another as to ensure that everyone has the right to express themselves. Avoid categorical sentences and prioritize in-depth factual assessments. Isn't this the essence of Western freedom of expression?

Evidently, no. Or, more precisely, not for China-related themes.

But it gets worse.

Until recently, this attitude of superiority was reserved for social users of Chinese origin.

The same approach has begun to target new categories of Internet users.

First, Westerners living in China, particularly those who have decided to become increasingly vocal in expressing their firsthand impressions and perceptions, refute these biased analyses.

The most concerning aspect is that even journalists and academics have become targets. They can be Chinese, American, British, French, or Brazilian, to mention just a few.

Regardless of the subject of studies, all analysts and researchers who have attempted to do their job well, that is, carefully listen to multiple voices in order to make them communicate, as well as frame complex and all-encompassing analyses, have been accused of having some ambiguous, mingled connections with the CPC.

What was once regarded as a breath of fresh air in an increasingly partial and, as a result, confusing debate has now become a source of danger.

The China Project, formerly SupChina, which was founded in 2016 with the goal of enlightening the world about China "without fear or favor," was forced to shut down last week.

Not because of a lack of readers, as subscriptions have never stopped increasing, but because some of their (best) work has put several targets on their backs. They have been accused numerous times in both countries of "working for nefarious purposes for the government of the other" and have spent a fortune in legal fees defending themselves.

And, as of last week, this platform, which has done nothing except tell, explain, clarify and probe into sensitive Chinese issues over the last six years, is no longer updated, leaving free space for biased and superficial analyses on other platforms.

Are we certain that this is yet another instance of defending the right to free speech? It is challenging to respond to this issue since it almost seems like freedom of expression 2.0 is more often understood – at least in Europe and the US – as a license for risky oversimplifications and unwarranted criticism and condemnation.

(The author is an independent researcher based in Paris. The views are her own.)

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