IF YOU visit the Web site of the Miss World 2015 pageant, you will learn that the competition kicks off in just two weeks, with the Grand Final slated for Dec. 19 in the Beauty Crown Grand Theatre on Hainan Island, China. You will learn that Hainan is a “fabulous Host Resort” and that China is a “colossal country” with a culture “just as impressive as its geography.” And you can read about “the most important part of Miss World . . . The contestants!”
Some of the contestants, however, are apparently less important than others. In fact, one — Miss Canada, Anastasia Lin — has yet to receive a visa from the Chinese government, apparently in retribution for her discussion of human rights when she was crowned in Vancouver. Ms. Lin is still trying to gain permission to take her rightful place in the contest, but her prospects are looking increasingly doubtful.
For readers who do not follow the world of beauty and talent contests, this may seem inconsequential. But it is emblematic of China’s increasing brazenness in extending its censorship and repression beyond its borders. It’s well known that the Communist Party for the past 10 years and especially under President Xi Jinping has become increasingly aggressive in locking up dissidents and silencing critics at home. What’s less well known is China’s success in stifling debate abroad.
American academics, particularly those who need access to China to conduct research, have to watch their words, because if China disapproves of their views it will not let them in. Inevitably this dampens debate about China in this country, and insidiously — most Americans will never be aware of what they aren’t hearing, and why. China has denied visas to foreign journalists it doesn’t like. Through pressure on advertisers and other means, it has gained increasing control over Chinese-language media overseas, as a Freedom House report documented.
Now it seems even beauty pageant contestants must toe the party line. Ms. Lin, 25, who was born in China, won the Miss Canada crown in May. Ms. Lin had played movie roles “that shed light on official corruption and religious persecution in China,” as she wrote in a Post op-ed in June, including persecution of Falun Gong, a spiritual practice that China considers a malign cult. She made clear she would use her crown to continue promoting her views.
The first sign of trouble came shortly after her triumph when security agents began visiting her father, who still lives in China, and pressuring him to put pressure on her to be silent. Now it seems that “colossal” China is afraid to let this woman compete.
We assumed the Miss World pageant would have the self-respect to insist that the host nation admit every legitimate contestant — or, if not, to move the contest. But when we asked pageant officials in London, we received the kind of pusillanimous response that has become increasingly common as China’s bullying intensifies: “We do not have any control over who is issued a visa,” an official told us in an e-mail. “Although regrettable the event would still continue under these circumstances.”
Perhaps the title could be modified to Miss Kowtow 2015.