China warns on overseas content after Springer Nature pulls some articles

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese distributors of overseas publications must verify that the content is legal in China, Beijing said late on Sunday, after a major western publisher blocked access to some content in the country citing local regulations.

Springer Nature, which publishes science magazines Nature and Scientific American, said last week that it had pulled access to less than 1 percent of its articles in China, which it said was regrettable but necessary to avoid all content being blocked.

“All publications imported into the Chinese market must accord with Chinese laws and regulations. The publications’ import management company is responsible for carrying out content checks on publications,” the State Council Information Office, the Chinese government’s information and propaganda arm, said in a faxed response to a request for comment sent by Reuters last Wednesday.

The Chinese government made a similar statement after Britain’s Cambridge University Press (CUP) in August removed and then reposted about 300 papers and book reviews published by the China Quarterly journal from its Chinese website.

Under President Xi Jinping, Beijing has heightened censorship, tightened controls on the internet, and strengthened Communist Party authority over academia and other institutions.

CUP’s decision was originally taken at the request of the Chinese government, the publisher said at the time. CUP later reversed its decision after an outcry from academics who said the decision impinged upon academic freedom.

Springer Nature in a statement last week denied that its decision to limit some content was a form of editorial censorship, saying that the move was local to China and was taken to comply with specific regulations as enforced by distributors.

The publisher said that not complying would mean it ran the risk of being banned from distributing all content in China, which it said was not in the interests of its authors and customers or the wider scientific or academic communities.

At least 1,000 Springer Nature articles had been blocked in China, containing sensitive key words like Taiwan, Tibet and Cultural Revolution, the Financial Times reported.

One of Springer Nature’s China distributors, the state-run China National Publications Import and Export (Group) Corp, did not immediately respond to a request for comment when contacted by Reuters on Monday.

It was unclear if the decision by Springer Nature to block content followed a request by just one of its China distributors or a number of different distributors. It was also unclear whether the distributor request was made at the behest of the Chinese government.

Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Tony Munroe and Richard Pullin