Publisher Springer Nature has blocked access to 1,000 journal articles in China.
The block, uncovered by the FT, affects articles from two journals - the Journal of Chinese Political Science and International Politics. The articles blocked all contain politically sensitive keywords such as Tibet, Taiwan and Cultural Revolution, the FT said.
In a lengthy statement, Springer Nature commented: "As a global publisher we are required to take account of the local rules and regulations in the countries in which we distribute our published content. China’s regulatory requirements oblige us to operate our SpringerLink platform in compliance with their local distribution laws. These local regulations, which are enforced by our distributors who are the officially appointed guardians of all content, only apply to local access to content.
"This does mean that access to a small percentage of our content (less than 1%) is limited in mainland China but remains accessible in the 180+ other markets in which our content is distributed, and in China itself via other means. This action is deeply regrettable but has been taken to prevent a much greater impact on our customers and authors and is in compliance with our published policy – see http://www.springernature.com/gb/policies. This is not editorial censorship and does not affect the content we publish or make accessible elsewhere in the world. It is a local content access decision in China done to comply with specific local regulations.
"In not taking action we ran the very real risk of all of our content being blocked. We do not believe that it is in the interests of our authors, customers, or the wider scientific and academic community, or to the advancement of research for us to be banned from distributing our content in China. Access to 99% of Springer Nature content is therefore safeguarded for all our customers in China and we will continue to work with the regulator and other Chinese authorities to minimise the content affected, reduce and ideally eliminate these restrictions on behalf of the global research community and wider society. We remain absolutely committed to safeguarding the integrity of the scientific record by publishing robust and insightful research across the world, supporting the development of new areas of knowledge."
However, academics reacted angrily to the news on social media. Christopher Balding, associate professor at HSBC School of Business at Peking University, China, tweeted: “We need to organize a boycott of Springer. This is just absurd.” Jonathan Henshaw, PhD student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, tweeted: “The @SpringerNature #censorship scandal is of concern to everyone working in #highered. #China”. Yangyang Cheng, a postdoctoral research associate at Cornell University in New York, tweeted: “I'm a Springer author (my PhD thesis published in Springer Theses) & Chinese academic. This is outrageous. How should science community respond?” Activist Peter Dahlin tweeted: “@SpringerNature Your bowing to censorship is deplorable, not to mention counter-productive. You look weak even compared to @cambridgepress."
In August, Cambridge University Press reversed a decision to block content from its journal The China Quarterly in China, after an academic outcry. The full list of articles published by the journal continue to be accessible in China as of this week, according to reports.
Michael Cox, professor emeritus at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and editor of the censored International Politics journal, told the New York Times he would press Springer Nature to reconsider its stance. “My first priority is to maintain and defend the principle of academic freedom,” he said.
Meanwhile Jonathan Sullivan, director of Nottingham's China Policy Institute, and the author of one of the articles which have been blocked, told the FT: "“It’s a symbol of how unprepared we are in the west for China’s influence expanding outwards. It’s about how we perceive our relationship with China and how much we value principles versus the instrumental benefits of pleasing the authorities in China.”