In an unusual move, Spain's Embassy in Beijing has effectively banned a book written by two Spanish investigative journalists that is critical of the way that the expansion of Chinese companies across the globe is draining raw materials and energy resources from other countries.
The 320-page book, La silenciosa conquista china, (or, The silent Chinese conquest), was written by Heriberto Araújo and Juan Pablo Cardenal, who both conducted more than 500 interviews and traveled to 25 countries to research their work.
In it, the two authors explain the recent phenomena of China's transnationals, and describe the economic and social implications, both good and bad, for countries where Chinese investment is extensive. However, Spanish diplomats believe that the book paints China in a negative light.
"Spain's ambassador [Eugenio Bregolat Obiols] called me in and told me that he could not support our project and that the book would not be available at the Cervantes Institute because it would anger the Chinese and could endanger Spanish interests in the country," said Araújo, who lives in Beijing. "I later asked him what it was about the book that he didn't like and if he had read it, and he told me no but the people on his team had read it and he trusted their judgment."
Mexico has accepted our offer to present the book as a cultural event”
Embassy officials say that the only reason that the book was not going to be promoted at the Cervantes Institute was because it was not going to be available anywhere in China.
"This is one of the criteria that is used in determining whether a book will be presented at Cervantes," said María Linares, a spokeswoman for the cultural institute. When asked whether it was true that Bregolat had told Araújo that the Chinese would not like the book, Linares said: "In an off-the-record meeting with the journalist, the ambassador may have given his opinion, putting things into context. But it was the Cervantes and not the ambassador who made the decision not to present the book."
La silenciosa conquista china is already in its fifth edition, and has been published in Latin America. It has already been translated into French, English, Polish and Chinese for readers in Taiwan, according to its authors.
The book has sparked interest among Latin American diplomatic circles in Beijing. A presentation is expected to be held at the Mexican Embassy on June 7. "Mexico has accepted our offer to present the book, billing it as what it is: a cultural event," Araújo said. "We are not engaging in any type of anti-Chinese propaganda. We are Spaniards. It is just so unbearable that Latin American diplomats support us and the Spanish Embassy won't."
Nevertheless, co-author Cardenal, who lives in Hong Kong, explained that they had decided to try to distribute the book in China because "there is a potential audience that is interested in this issue."
"As a Spaniard, where is the first place you would go? The embassy or preferably the institute. I never thought they would turn us down because the book obviously brings up some critical points about China. It doesn't matter who likes or doesn't like the subject matter; the book has all the information that is needed to make your own judgment."