Professor Anne-Marie Brady
Supplementary Submission to the New Zealand Parliament Justice Select Committee Inquiry into Foreign Interference Activities, 2019
The role of the CCP in Chinese foreign policy
The People’s Republic of China is a party-state that since its founding in 1949, has always relied on non-traditional means for its diplomacy and economic relations. Agencies of the CCP such as the United Front Work Department, the Central Propaganda Department, the International Liaison Department, the All-China Federation of Overseas Chinese, and the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, all play an important part in Chinese foreign affairs and defence. These agencies supplement and extend, and sometimes override, the work of the PRC’s state sector organizations involved in China’s external relations as well as increasingly, SOEs and private firms.
The key concept in Chinese foreign policy which links party and state organisations is the “united front”.19 The united front is originally a Leninist tactic of strategic alliances. Lenin wrote in “Left-Wing” Communism: an Infantile Disorder,
From the mid-1930s, CCP strategists adapted Lenin’s tactics to Chinese circumstances and culture. The CCP’s united front can be used in both domestic and foreign policy. United front activities incorporates working with groups and prominent individuals in society; information management and propaganda; and it has also frequently been a means of facilitating espionage.
The PRC was forged out of the civil war from 1927 to 1949 between the CCP and the Chinese Nationalist Party government. The new regime was excluded from the international governance system until 1971, the date when the PRC took over the China seat in the United Nations from the Republic of China (ROC). During the Cold War years, patriotic overseas Chinese helped the PRC economy with technical assistance and investments. Over the same period, the CCP government worked to break its diplomatic isolation by making use of an informal diplomatic corps of ‘foreign friends’ of China who pushed for the recognition of the PRC in their respective nations.
In those years, reaching out to the overseas Chinese population and managing relations with foreigners were essential tasks of CCP foreign affairs. PRC agencies such as the International Liaison Department, the United Front Work Department, and PLA Second Department supported and nurtured revolutionary overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia to undermine governments, foment revolution, and help gather intelligence. The PRC government also supported revolutionary and nationalist movements throughout the world and nurtured pro-PRC united front organizations.
In the Mao years and up to the present day, under the policy known as “using civil actors to promote political ends”, CCP united front officials and their agents try to develop relationships with foreign and overseas Chinese personages (the more influential the better) to influence, subvert, and if necessary, bypass the policies of their governments and promote the interests of the CCP globally.
The year 1989 was a turning point in the Cold War, the year when the governments of the Eastern Bloc fell in a series of peaceful revolutions. It was also a turning point for the PRC and its efforts to influence foreign publics and governments. Following the violent crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Beijing on June 4, 1989, the CCP government faced international sanctions and opprobrium.
The Party responded by increasing foreign influence efforts and reaching out even more to overseas Chinese. Members of these communities had supported the student democracy movement, providing funds and safe havens. Yet in speeches in 1989 and 1993, senior Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping spoke of the “unique opportunity” the overseas Chinese offered the PRC, saying that by drawing on their help, China could break out of international isolation and improve its international political standing. Gaining influence over overseas Chinese groups in order to “turn them into propaganda bases for China” became an important task of overseas Chinese united front work.
The State Council Overseas Chinese Affairs Office was significantly expanded after 1989. There are currently around 60 million Chinese people living outside China, some of whose forebears left China hundreds of years ago. However, the CCP’s main focus since 1989, and the main area of success for its overseas Chinese policies, is towards more recent migrants, those who have migrated from the PRC in the last 30 years. In 2015 10 million PRC citizens were living abroad.
The CCP’s efforts to influence the overseas Chinese population has helped to extend China’s global influence and to expand its economic agendas. Post-1989 the CCP’s policies were designed to discourage the Chinese diaspora from supporting Chinese dissidents and Falungong, to reduce the impact of the Taiwan democratic model, as well as to draw on the patriotic sentiments of the overseas Chinese to get them to assist in China’s economic development.
United Front Work Department personnel often operate under diplomatic cover as members of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, using this role to guide united front activities outside China, working with politicians and other high profile individuals, Chinese community associations, and student associations, and sponsoring Chinese language, media, and cultural activities.
The Party has a long tradition of party and government personnel “double-hatting”; holding roles within multiple agencies. Chinese consulates and embassies relay instructions to Chinese community groups and the Chinese language media and they host visits of high-level CCP delegations coming to meet with local overseas Chinese groups. The leaders of the various China-connected overseas Chinese associations in each country are regularly invited to China to update them on current government policies.
The CCP wants to avoid being seen to “lead” the overseas Chinese community, but rather prefers to be seen to “guide” them. Overseas Chinese leaders who cooperate in this guidance are encouraged to see their participation as a form of service, serving the Chinese Motherland, the Chinese race, and the ethnic Chinese population within the countries where they live. Their cooperation with China is meant to be a “win-win” situation, whereby they and their community will achieve gains at the same time as China achieving its own agenda. The goal of successful overseas Chinese work is to get the community to proactively and even better, spontaneously, engage in activities which enhance China’s foreign policy agenda.
After more than 30 years of this work, there are few overseas Chinese associations able to completely evade “guidance”—other than those affiliated with the religious group Falungong, Taiwan independence, pro-independence Tibetans and Uighurs, independent Chinese religious groups outside party-state controlled religions, and the democracy movement—and even these are subject to being infiltrated by informers and a target for united front work.
To be continued…
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