An Australian publisher has held back the release of a book detailing alleged Chinese interference in the country over fears of legal action by Beijing, the author said Monday.

Clive Hamilton said printing of his book “Silent Invasion” was pulled by publisher Allen & Unwin last week just as it was about to go to the presses.

“What we’re seeing… is the first instance where a major Western publisher has decided to censor material of the Chinese Communist Party in its home country,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Clive Hamilton
Clive Hamilton. Photo: Clive Hamilton, via Twitter.

“This really is a watershed in the debate over China’s suppression of free speech,” said Hamilton, a prominent academic at Charles Sturt University.

“I think if we succumb to this in Australia then we have lost a big battle in trying to defend what we take to be fundamental rights and privileges and freedoms in this country,” Hamilton added.

The incident came amid heightened anxieties in Australia over the extent of Beijing’s soft power.

Canberra in June ordered an inquiry into espionage laws and foreign government activities after a media investigation into large political donations by two Chinese billionaires with reported links to China’s Communist Party.

The probe, by the ABC and Fairfax Media, said intelligence agencies had major concerns that Beijing was interfering in Australian institutions and using the political donations system to gain access.

Last month Foreign Minister Julie Bishop warned Chinese students in Australia they should abide by the nation’s values of “openness and upholding freedom of speech” amid debate about Beijing’s sway at universities.

Hamilton, who has published eight books with Allen & Unwin, said “Silent Invasion” had already been reviewed by lawyers.

He shared an email from the publisher with the ABC showing Allen & Unwin was concerned about legal threats, stating it was “an obvious target” for “Beijing’s agents of influence”.

The company said Monday it had “enormous respect” for the academic, but had decided to delay publication while legal opinion was sought.

“After extensive legal advice we decided to delay publication of Clive’s book Silent Invasion until certain matters currently before the courts have been decided,” Allen & Unwin said in a statement.

“Clive was unwilling to delay publication and requested the return of his rights, as he is entitled to do.”

AFP is a global news agency delivering fast, in-depth coverage of the events shaping our world from wars and conflicts to politics, sports, entertainment and the latest breakthroughs in health, science and technology.