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[Washington Babylon]

The Professor of Repression and China

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Two years ago, I wrote a story about Professor S. Frederick Starr of Johns Hopkins University’s Central Asia Caucasus Institute and his indecently close ties to dictators in that region. Shortly before the story ran, Starr had performed at a Washington event which featured a video, produced by the government of Uzbekistan, which sought to justify its bloody 2005 crackdown in the town of Andijan, where hundreds of protesters were killed. EurasiaNet.org said that Starr had, as a host of the event, “sought to undermine the credibility of several independent news accounts . . . alleging journalists deliberately falsified their stories,” and that the journalists “had an anti-government agenda.”

This was admittedly standard stuff from Starr, who earlier had written the preface to the 1998 English-language version of “Uzbekistan on the Threshold of the Twenty-First Century,” authored by Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov. Starr wrote in the preface that Uzbekistan had “made impressive strides” since gaining independence in 1991 and approvingly cited Karimov’s assertion that “social harmony and stability are the essential conditions for reform and not merely its consequences.”

Now Inside Higher Ed has done a story on academic freedom and China, in which Starr plays a notable role:

Wiemer is one of a small number of U.S. scholars seemingly “blacklisted” from China for her scholarly output – and, specifically, her contribution to a 2004 book on Xinjiang, China’s northwestern, largely Muslim region and a seat of some separatist sentiment. She said a Chinese translation of Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Borderland (M.E. Sharp) was already circulating, prepublication, at the time of her first visa denial in October 2003. According to the accounts of several scholars involved, the 16 collaborators on the Xinjiang book have largely been blocked from entering China. (Though the book’s editor, S. Frederick Starr, of Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, or SAIS, maintains he’s not “convinced or unconvinced” that there’s a link between the book and visa difficulties. Other collaborators said the connection was crystal clear, and two, on the record, said that Starr was “in denial.”)

“I have been denied a visa to China since 2005, following the publication of the book on Xinjiang. I have applied each year and been turned down. The Chinese government has not given a specific reason: It said only, ‘You are not welcome in China. You should know why,’” said Peter C. Perdue, a professor of history at Yale University who co-authored a chapter on Xinjiang’s political and cultural history. He added, however, that a systematic pattern of visa denials affecting the book’s contributors “makes [the reason] pretty clear. We know that the Communist Party had this volume translated, labeled internal circulation, and discussed it.” Perdue had to shift his Fulbright fellowship from Beijing to Taiwan last spring after the U.S. State Department couldn’t get him in.

I have a piece in the August issue of Harper’s, “The Mandarins: American foreign policy, brought to you by China,” which also takes a look at the topic of academic and intellectual freedom in China, and how it relates to this year’s presidential campaign. The story is not yet available online but the issue should be on newsstands soon.

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