Database shuts out foreign researchers in ‘security’ move

On 16 March librarians and academics at universities and research institutions in several countries received notices that some access to China’s largest database of academic papers would be ‘temporarily’ curtailed from 1 April. The notifications arrived without clarifying how long this would be.

These notifications, in particular, affected four databases of the China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI) – PhD and masters theses and dissertations, its database on conference proceedings, the National Population Census of China and the statistical yearbooks database, which the notifications said would be suspended pending “regulatory review” of its cross-border services.

The national Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) had already announced a “cybersecurity review” of the CNKI database in June last year aimed at “preventing national data security risks, maintaining national security and protecting the public interest”.

This followed government measures in February 2022 that it would strengthen national data security pointing to “sensitive” information about China’s major research and technology projects.

According to CAC, CNKI was reportedly holding “a huge amount of” personal information and important data in key industries such as national defence, telecommunications, transport, natural resources, health and finance, as well as other sensitive data covering major projects, important scientific and technological achievements, and key technological developments, official media reported.

German database provider CrossAsia, a service of the Berlin State Library – one of the largest libraries in Europe and an important academic research library – in a communication on its webpage notified readers of the new restrictions. It said “colleagues in China are working towards a continuation of their global business plans and towards reinstating these services after the completion of the review process”.

CrossAsia said some other CNKI services such as the China Academic Journals database – the world’s largest, and most regularly updated, Chinese journal database with over 70 million full-text articles from almost all academic journals published in China – were not affected. Neither were “monograph series reference works and yearbooks”.

Other universities and libraries around the world, including in Japan and South Korea, also received the notifications from Tongfang Knowledge Network Technology Co, which operates CNKI and was formerly a commercial arm of Tsi

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