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A defamation lawsuit by businessman Stephen Perry, seen here, left, meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on Oct. 16, 2018, has put the book's publication on hold.Daisuke Suzuki/The Associated Press

Australian academic Clive Hamilton says a legal challenge by a wealthy British businessman who advocates closer economic and diplomatic ties to Beijing has halted the release in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom of his new book, which is critical of the Chinese Communist Party.

Hidden Hand: Exposing How the Chinese Communist Party is Reshaping the World was scheduled for release digitally Thursday in the U.K. and the U.S. and July 1 in Canada, with hardcover distribution to follow.

But a defamation lawsuit by businessman Stephen Perry has put it on hold.

In Canada, Toronto-based Optimum Publishing International has printed copies of the book ready for release on July 3 but will not distribute them to bookstores until the legal issue is resolved in the U.K.

Hidden Hand has already been published in Australia and digitally in Germany, where Mr. Hamilton, a professor of public ethics at Canberra’s Charles Sturt University, says it’s a bestseller.

After seeing excerpts from the German edition, Mr. Perry has gone to court to stop the publication of the book in the U.K., Canada and anywhere else, according to Mr. Hamilton.

“I can confirm that a letter has been sent by the lawyers representing Stephen Perry and the 48 Group Club to One World Publishers, which holds Northern Hemisphere rights to Hidden Hand,” he said in a telephone interview from Australia Friday.

The 48 Group Club is a British trade association that promotes closer economic ties to China, similar to the Canada China Business Council.

“The letter claims the book defames Perry and the 48 Group Club and quotes various parts of the book, translated from the German edition. We stand by our research, which is meticulously documented. All of the claims are rebuffed, and we reject any suggestion that the book is contrary to defamation law and we will be replying in due time.”

Asked if he believed the lawsuit was an effort by the Chinese government to stop the publication of his book, Mr. Hamilton said: “I have no evidence of that, although it should be noted that the Chinese government has used lawfare in the past.” Lawfare is the use of legal action as part of a campaign against a target.

Neither Mr. Perry nor the 48 Group Club could be reached for comment.

Mr. Hamilton co-authored the book with Mareike Ohlberg, a senior fellow in the Asia program of the German Marshall Fund. She previously worked at the Mercator Institute for China Studies.

This is not the first time that Mr. Hamilton, a former executive director of progressive think tank the Australia Institute, has run into publication difficulties with a book critical of China’s leaders.

Three Australian companies refused to publish his first groundbreaking book, Silent Invasion: China’s influence in Australia, in 2018, citing fear of retribution.

The book was eventually published and became an international bestseller.

“This situation has a particular resonance for me given that the original publisher of Silent Invasion dropped the book at the last minute because he feared retribution from Beijing, in particular vexatious legal actions against the publisher,” Mr. Hamilton said.

Optimum publisher Dean Baxendale said the book has been meticulously researched and footnoted, but he will not release Hidden Hand “until we have full clearance from our respective legal counsels.

“The book details the tactics of the CCP and its strategic initiatives to undermine democracy from within the very countries with which it seeks to trade and that it calls friends. It explores how members of the political class in those countries have unknowingly assisted CCP state actors in furthering those initiatives or simply turned a blind eye,” Mr. Baxendale said.

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