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HRIC Comment on and Translation of Peking University’s Rules on Participation in Online Conferences Organized by Foreign Parties

August 26, 2020

On August 20, 2020, Peking University issued a “Notice on Regulating the Declaration and Approval of Participation in Online International Conferences Organized by Foreign Parties.” The Notice requires all teachers and students planning to participate in online conferences (webinars) to declare their participation and seek approval by providing documentation and specifics at least 15 days prior to an event.

In their scope and likely impact, the requirements raise serious concerns about restrictions on academic freedom and, more specifically, about noncompliance with a wide range of international human rights standards, including freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of association, and the right to access and disseminate information. In addition, the Notice directly implicates a fundamental right to education under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), to which the People’s Republic of China is a party. The Covenant states that “[h]igher education shall be made equally accessible to all.” (Art. 13 (2)(c))

(See Annex I below for a bilingual version of the Notice with HRIC’s translation.)

The Notice states that participation in online conferences organized by “foreign parties” (外方) shall be treated the same as a temporary visit abroad regulated by an earlier set of rules, “Peking University’s Provisions on Approval and Management of Going Abroad on Business” issued in 2012 which set out application and post-visit reporting requirements as well as a three-tiered oversight structure.

 (See Annex II below for a summary of key points in the 2012 Provisions.)

We assume that the Notice does not apply to online meetings, conferences, and other public sessions organized by United Nations bodies, including UN human rights mechanisms. The right of civil society to participate is protected under international standards and norms. Requiring prior declaration and approval for such events would unduly restrict that right.

In an era when online conferencing serves teachers and students globally by connecting them, spreading knowledge, and enabling exchange of ideas across borders, the requirement to “declare” and obtain “approval” before participation in online conferences also restricts and chills the legitimate exercise of academic freedom. This requirement also highlights a concerning expansion of the social control over the exercise of rights online under China’s Cybersecurity Law (2017) to online international exchanges and platforms.

The uncertainty and chilling effect of the pre-participation declaration process contribute to undermining the kinds of academic and expert exchanges of information, analyses, and international collaboration critical to identifying and effectively addressing the complex global, cross-border health and other challenges facing China and the world.

Two specific requirements in the Notice raise concern over their functions as deterrents to academic engagement and inhibitors of free and open intellectual and scholarly exchange on topics that may be deemed “politically sensitive”:

  • The requirement to submit details about a conference: “When submitting the declaration materials, an invitation letter or meeting notice should be included to clarify such arrangements as the theme, discussion topics, agenda, etc., of the meeting.” (Art. 2)
  • The requirement to keep secrets: “Teachers and students should strictly abide by relevant provisions on keeping secrets when participating in international conferences organized by foreign parties.” (Art. 3)

Pre-approval requirement chills exercise of rights

The requirement to disclose conference details poses hurdles for the potential participant as well as risks for the conference organizer. Examples of issues that may arise include:

  • Would a declaration of intended participation in an online legal seminar organized by an academic institution in Hong Kong that examines the various aspects of the National Security Law (NSL) that mainland authorities imposed on Hong Kong, including whether different provisions of the Law comply with or violate the rights guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which applies in Hong Kong—rights that the National Security Law specifically protects in Article 4—be approved?
  • Would a mainland expert on ICCPR receiving an invitation to contribute his or her expertise to such a seminar be willing to risk political censure to even make a declaration of intended participation?
  • Would a mainland student seeking to know more about the ICCPR and Hong Kong dare to make a declaration of intended participation?
  •  Would a declaration of participation in such a seminar that features foreign speakers pose risks for the organizer as a target under the NSL for “provoking by unlawful means hatred among Hong Kong residents towards the Central People’s Government or the Government of the Region” (National Security Law, Art. 29 (5)?

Vague requirement to “keep secrets” impacts innovation and research

The requirement in the Notice to keep secrets does not specify the definition and scope of secrets, or the process for identifying them. However, the referenced 2012 Provisions state: “Persons visiting on business must keep state secrets and must not involve national political, military, economic and technological secrets; and should safeguard the school’s intellectual property rights.“ (“Peking University’s Provisions on Approval and Management of Going Abroad on Business,” Art. 27) Under the State Secrets Law of the People’s Republic of China, what might constitute a “secret” is broad, vague and all-encompassing under implementing regulations that impact virtually every social sector, including research and education.  Within an overarching political culture of secrecy and lack of transparency, the vague and broad secrecy requirement can act as a blanket inhibitor of meaningful participation in academic conferences on a wide range of topics, including technological and scientific topics. Examples of issues that may arise include:

  • Would approval be forthcoming for participation at a big data conference on the collection of genomic data such as blood samples of Uyghurs in Xinjiang? 
  • Would sharing analyses drawn upon data in Peking University’s proprietary databases constitute a violation of the secrecy requirement in terms of intellectual property?

A vague secrecy requirement implemented by Peking University, one of the major institutions in China, will also undermine its international reputation for innovation and research.

Impact of the Notice on related regulations

The Notice also raises issues relating to online conferences organized by foreign NGOs that have registered with Chinese authorities and have representative offices in China as well as those that have received approval for temporary activities under the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Administration of Activities of Overseas Nongovernmental Organizations in the Mainland of China (FNGO Law, effective January 1, 2017). Will webinars organized by foreign NGOs with approved representative offices or those already approved as temporary activities fall under the scope of this Notice? To date, 554 foreign NGOs—operating in fields including education, medicine, science, youth development, rights of persons with disabilities, environmental protection, and cultural exchange—have registered with Chinese authorities, and there have been 2,895 filings for temporary activities. Given the breadth of these foreign NGOs’ activities, the chilling effect of this Notice could be equally deep. While the Notice applies to Peking University teachers and students, the expansion of this requirement to other universities and institutions will need to be monitored.


Annex I: Bilingual version of Peking University’s “Notice on Regulating the Declaration and Approval of Participation in Online International Conferences Organized by Foreign Parties”

关于规范参加外方主办的线上国际会议申报审批的通知
北京大学国际合作部、港澳台办公室

2020年8月20日

archive.is/aLz1V

Notice on Regulating the Declaration and Approval of Participation in Online International Conferences Organized by Foreign Parties

Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan Affairs Office of the International Cooperation Department Peking University

August 20, 2020

[English translation by Human Rights in China]

校内各单位:

To all units within the university:

  根据上级有关规范管理线上外事活动的文件精神,结合我校防范新冠疫情常态化实际,为进一步规范师生参加外方主办的线上国际会议的申报和审批程序,确保线上对外交流活动有序展开,现将有关事项通知如下:

In accordance with the spirit of the documents from the higher-ups concerning the regulation and management of online foreign affairs activities, combining the reality of our school’s normalization of prevention of the new coronavirus epidemic, furthering the standardization of the declaration and approval procedures for teachers and students to participate in online international conferences organized by foreign parties, and ensuring that online foreign exchange activities proceed in an orderly manner, we hereby give notice on the following related matters:

  一、我校师生参加外方主办的在线国际会议,应参照《北京大学因公出国审批与管理规定》(校发[2012]69号),于参会前至少15日进行申报。

1. Our school’s teachers and students participating in online international conferences organized by foreign parties should refer to Peking University's Provisions on Approval and Management of Going Abroad on Business (School Rule [2012] No. 69[1]) and make a declaration at least 15 days prior to participation.

  二、申报和审批程序,与目前因公(临时)出国(境)申报和审批程序相同。填写出访申报表时,出访类别请选择“参加在线国际会议”,出访时间填写参加在线国际会议的时间,出访国家地区请选择在线国际会议主办方所在的国家地区,出访事由请填写“参加XXXX在线国际会议”。提交申报材料时,应包含邀请函或会议通知,以明确会议的主题、议题、议程安排等。

2. The declaration and approval procedure is the same as the current declaration and approval procedure for going abroad for business (temporary). When filling out the visit declaration form, please select “attend online international conference” for the type of visit, fill in the time for the online international conference, select the country location of the organizer of the online international conference, and fill in “to participate in XXXX online international conference” as the reason for the visit. When submitting the declaration materials, an invitation letter or meeting notice should be included to clarify such arrangements as the theme, discussion topics, agenda, etc., of the meeting.

  三、各单位应对参加外方主办的在线国际会议进行严格审核把关,师生在参加外方主办的国际会议时应严格遵守相关保密规定。

3. All units should strictly review and check participation in online international conferences organized by foreign parties. Teachers and students should strictly abide by relevant provisions on keeping secrets when participating in international conferences organized by foreign parties.

  四、参加由港、澳、台地区单位主办的在线国际会议,参照以上办法执行。

4. For participation in online international conferences organized by units in the regions of Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, refer to the above methods for implementation.

  申报中若有问题,请咨询国际合作部派出办公室,联系电话:62752507,62756433(港澳台办)。

If you have any questions when making a declaration, please consult the office of the International Cooperation Department by phone:  62752507, 62756433 (Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan Affairs Office).

 

[1] 《北京大学因公出国审批与管理规定》( 2012年6月5日第794次校长办公会审议通过).


Annex II: Summary of key points in “Peking University’s Provisions on Approval and Management of Going Abroad on Business”

Source: 《北京大学因公出国审批与管理规定》(2012年6月5日第794次校长办公会审议通过)

Note: Official English translation of excerpts from the Provisions below is by Human Rights in China.

Scope

The provisions apply to “those who use funds from the state, unit, individual, or inviting party to participate in meetings, teaching, visits, cooperative research, learning, and other related official activities abroad.” (Art. 2)

(Source text:

第二条  ……使用国家或单位、个人或邀请方经费赴国外参加会议、任教、访问、合作研究、学习等相关公务活动的……。)

Management Structure

  • 3 levels of management structure: 1) “school,” 2) “Competent functional departments,” and 3) “academy, departments, and directly affiliated units.” (Art. 3)
  • “Competent functional departments” refer to
    • Party Committee Office of Office of the President,
    • Organization Department of the Party Committee,
    • Office for Safeguarding Secrets,
    • Educational Affairs Department,
    • Graduate School,
    • Personnel Department,
    • Finance Department, and
    • International Cooperation Department, etc.

(Source text:

第三条  ……学校、主管职能部门以及院系、直属附属单位分级负责管理的“三级管理”模式,按照“依法、高效、精简” 的原则,按程序、按权限逐级审批。“主管职能部门管理” 是指党委办公室校长办公室、党委组织部、保密办、教务部、研究生院、人事部、财务部、国际合作部等部门在各自职责范围内相互配合,提供因公出访服务,进行科学管理。国际合作部主要负责对全校因公出国工作实施归口管理,按照有关规定和程序进行申报审核。

各院系和直属附属单位负责对隶属于本单位的师生员工提交的因公出国任务申请进行审核,……

纪委办公室、监察室、审计室等部门负责因公出国工作的监督检查工作。)

Protecting Secrecy

The provision specifies secrecy relating to technology. (Art. 15)

(Source text:

第十五条  凡涉密人员因公出访,应遵守国家制定的对外科技交流活动的相关保密规定,履行保守国家秘密的义务,并填写《涉密人员对外科技交流保密义务承诺书》,在承诺书上署名,与申报材料一并交国际合作部。)

Post-visit reporting

Reporting including summary of visit, photos of visit, and a report on the visit (包括出访总结、出访照片、出访报告等) must be submitted to the issuing unit within 15 days upon return. (Arts. 23, 24)

(Source text:

第二十三条  因公出访团组须在回国后15天内,由团组负责人将出国总结(包括出访总结、出访照片、出访报告等)交到各派出单位,并由各派出单位进行筛选,选取优秀的不涉密的总结交至国际合作部,由国际合作部以适当方式予以发布。

第二十四条  校级领导完成出访任务后,应口头或书面向党 委常委会或校长办公会通报出访情况,并及时布置安排需要落实的后续工作。

各院系和直属附属单位及党政职能部门正职负责人完成出访任务后,应口头或书面向主管校领导报告出访情况。)

Code of conduct on foreign business

  • “Protect the interests of the country and the school and refrain from doing things that damage the reputation of the country and the school.” (Art. 25)
  • “Persons visiting on business must keep state secrets and must not involve national political, military, economic, and technological secrets; and should safeguard the school’s intellectual property rights.” (Art. 27)

(Source text:

第二十五条  因公出访人员在对外交往中,应严格遵守我国和前往国家的法律法规,严格遵守外事纪律和学校规章,维护国家和学校利益,不做有损国家和学校声誉的事情。

第二十七条  因公出访人员在对外交往中要保守国家秘密,不得涉及国家政治、军事、经济和科技秘密;并应维护学校的知识产权。)


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