In Latest Act of Censorship, Beijing Shuts Down Liberal Think Tank

By Frank Fang, Epoch Times
August 28, 2019 Updated: August 28, 2019

Beijing is shutting down a private Chinese think tank known for its liberal views on China’s economic policies.

Beijing-based Unirule Institute of Economics, in an Aug. 26 statement published on its website, stated that it has ceased all activities under the institute’s name and stopped updating its website, after it received two separate letters from municipal authorities in early July.

On July 1, the civil affairs bureau in Beijing’s Changping District declared that Unirule and its subordinate entities “were unregistered and unauthorized, but act in the name of [a] private non-enterprise.”

Several days later, on July 5, the think tank stated that its parent company, Beijing Information Technology Corporation, had its operating license revoked by the Beijing Haidian District administration for market regulation. The administration’s cited reason was that the company had operated the think tank’s website without obtaining an online publishing service permit as required by law.

In its statement at the time, Unirule argued that the two decisions “seriously violate Article 35 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China,” which guarantees freedom of speech and publication. As a result, the banning decisions were void and they had no legal basis, it said.

Beijing-based Unirule Institute of Economics was founded in July 1993 by five Chinese economists, including Sheng Hong and Mao Yushi, whose sought to push forward China’s economic liberalization, while advocating reforms for state-owned companies and the rule of law.

The think tank was registered as a nonprofit institution in 1999. Five years later, it became a research institute under its current parent company.

“We no longer have any space for survival,” said Sheng Hong, Unirule’s executive director, in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal. “We have no choice but to shut down.”

Meanwhile, Han Lianchao, vice president of the U.S.-based pro-democracy group Citizen Power Initiatives for China, took to his Twitter to lament the decision: “This is a new round of suppression by the Chinese Communist Party, which means that not only political space is disappearing, but also the economic and academic spaces are disappearing. This is so sad.”

For years, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has attempted to silence the think tank over its outspoken views on government policies.

For instance, in January 2017, its website and a handful of its social media accounts were abruptly shut down, in an attempt to “silence critical voices ahead of the National People’s Congress in March,” according to Berlin-based think tank Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS). The Congress refers to the Chinese regime’s rubber-stamp legislature.

Just a few days before Chinese censors took Unirule offline, Mao openly criticized Zhou Qiang, the president of China’s Supreme People’s Court, in a petition calling for his resignation, after the latter called on people to reject “erroneous western concepts” such as judicial independence at a seminar.

Simultaneously, the municipal cyberspace administration in Beijing claimed that Unirule’s website and 16 other sites had to be shut down because they had published “pornographic content.”

Then, in November 2018, Sheng was barred from leaving China to participate in a symposium held at Harvard University on China’s economic reforms. Authorities claimed that he posed a threat to national security.

Hong Kong Citizen News, in an opinion article published the same month, speculated that Sheng was likely banned from traveling due to a critical article he published months earlier, in which he stated that China’s state-owned companies would use their political clout to “dress up” their own economic interests as “national interests,” in an attempt to influence China’s trade policies amid the ongoing Sino-U.S. trade war.

The article called on Beijing to scrap its government subsidies to state-owned companies and break up their “monopoly.”

And in March this year, Xu Zhangrun, a law professor at China’s prestigious Tsinghua University and a research fellow at Unirule, was suspended by his employer for criticizing the Chinese regime in a series of essays.

For example, Xu published an article titled “Our Current Fears and Expectations” on Unirule’s website in July 2018, in which he pointed out that the Chinese regime had abused its powers such as expropriation of private property, without just cause or compensation. 

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer