The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) continues to exert soft power in the United States and other Western nations. For decades, China has sought to influence public opinion, both inside and outside of China. According to the November 2018 Hoover Institution report, the CCP’s international reach has expanded since China’s current leader Xi Jinping took power in 2012. His governmental policies not only seek to redefine China’s role as a global leader, but also to assert that the ‘China option’ is a more efficient developmental model than liberal democracy.
The Hoover report confirms what so many researchers have documented and what DAFOH has stated previously; the CCP has attempted to impact all levels of government in the United States as well as a wide range of NGOs, including various civil societies, policy institutes, academic institutions, organizations within the Chinese American community including Chinese students, and the media. Their efforts have been largely successful.
Some of the Chinese government’s actions, the Hoover report suggests, reflect the usual steps taken by many countries in the pursuit of diplomacy. Like other nations, China employs lobbying and public relations firms and engages with prominent civil society groups. Unlike other nations, China’s activities often serve to manipulate and pressure US leaders into supporting the repressive actions of the People’s Republic and ignoring their serious human rights violations.
In addition, the Hoover findings indicate that China restricts the activities of US policy institutes and denies engagement with foreign companies that do not support CCP policy on such issues as Taiwan independence and the repression of Tibetans. At the same time, China has supported the development of dozens of local Chinese chambers of commerce in the US that appear affiliated with the Chinese government.
State-run Chinese media has expanded tremendously throughout the US, obliterating independent Chinese-language outlets. Moreover, “the Chinese government has severely limited the ability of US and other Western media outlets to conduct normal news gathering activities within China, much less to provide news feeds directly to Chinese listeners, viewers, and readers inside China, by limiting and blocking their Chinese-language websites and forbidding distribution of their output within China itself.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the recently expanded United Front Work Department oversee those Party agencies primarily responsible for infiltrating overseas, including the Central Propaganda Department, the International Liaison Department, the State Council Information Office, the All-China Federation of Overseas Chinese, and the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.
The Epoch Times recently highlighted several ways the CCP has infiltrated US colleges and universities. One of the most pervasive is a government-affiliated organization referred to as Confucius Institute, with the stated intention to promote Chinese language and culture throughout the globe and support “cultural exchanges.”
Rather than fostering open dialogue, however, these institutes instead act as a platform to further the CCP’s agenda. The Epoch Times article notes that high-level Chinese officials have identified Confucius Institutes as an essential component of overseas propaganda, “an extension of China’s soft power.” The programs avoid any mention of issues sensitive to the Party, such as the Tiananmen Square massacre or the persecution of the spiritual practice Falun Gong and instead only present information in a way that boosts the government’s image.
Furthermore, Hanban, the governing body of Confucius Institutes and Classrooms, offers approximately 3,000 textbooks per year to Confucius Institutes as well as free teachers and approximately $100,000 per year on average to each hosting university. According to Rachelle Peterson, policy director at the National Association of Scholars, there are 107 Confucius Institutes and more than 500 Confucius Classrooms in the United States. While speaking at the “Mark Palmer Forum: China’s Global Challenge to Democratic Freedom” at the Hudson Institute in Washington on Oct. 24, 2018, Perry Link, Emeritus Professor of East Asian Studies at Princeton University, stated that American scholars practice self-censorship about China and adopt the official narrative of the Chinese regime when talking about sensitive issues, particularly in order to gain access to China for study. “We don’t talk about ‘Taiwan independence.’ We talk about ‘the cross-Strait relations.’ We don’t talk about ‘the occupation of Tibet.’ We don’t call the June 4th Massacre ‘massacre.’ It is June 4th ‘incident,’ or something like that,” Link said.
Infiltration and censorship have impacted what information is received in on-line searches. When Link did a search on whether China has democracy, the following answer appeared: “Chinese have expressed skepticism towards Western-style democracy as incompatible with traditionalist Chinese culture. They hold that government is legitimate not when people influence it but when it represents their higher interests.”
Link also discovered that when people search for the question of why the Great Chinese Famine happened, the answer is: “According to the government, and the Chinese Communist Party, the Great Famine was caused by a string of natural disasters. Communist historiography refers to it not as a ‘Great Famine,’ but as the “Three Years of Natural Disasters.’ There are seeds of truth in this claim.”
Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, a former security-affairs reporter at The Daily Beast who also spoke at the Forum, detailed how the CCP uses its embassies and consulates to monitor and control the activities of Chinese scholars and students in the United States. Every Chinese embassy and consulate, she reported, has an “Education Department” that oversees a particular region. Each official in the “Education Department” supervises between 100 to 150 Chinese Student and Scholar Associations (CSSAs) across the United States.
Allen-Ebrahimian explained that through platforms such as WeChat, presidents of the CSSAs can be immediately notified of upcoming visits by CCP leaders. Through financial incentives, free meals, transportation and accommodations, the embassies and consulates can organize thousands of Chinese students to “welcome” CCP leaders on arrival.
Contrary to what many in the West might expect, the CCP does not intend for Chinese students to discover exciting new freedoms in the US, suggests Allen-Ebrahimian, but rather, the Party aims to inoculate these students against Western values and promote a Communist agenda overseas.
CCP infiltration was a topic of discussion at a recent film screening of Human Harvest, an expose of China’s forced organ harvesting crimes. Dr. Sophia Bryskine, on DAFOH’s behalf, spoke out against the CCP’s pressure on Western nations to conform to Party policy. She questioned people’s propensity to turn a blind eye. “There needs to be a general rethink as to how we deal with a country like China and how much appeasement we can do, or whether we actually draw the line in the sand and say: ‘It’s not okay to dictate how we teach our university students; it’s not okay to have Confucius Institutes; it’s not okay to tell our politicians what to do; and it’s also not okay to influence our media and the communities’.”
Human rights activist and former Ms. Canada Anastasia Lin also shared her concern that we not be bullied by China. “We in the West actually have a lot more leverage than we think but we have never used it…I know the CCP’s tactics way too well because they used it on me. If they try to intimidate you and you stand up for your values, they will see you have a backbone; they tested the water and it didn’t succeed, so they will back down.” She suggested that when all nations pull together to challenge China, the government will have to have acquiesce.
The screening, held in Sydney, Australia, followed a Dec. 3 parliamentary inquiry proposing the Australian government adopt twelve measures to combat organ trafficking and transplant tourism crimes involving Australians overseas.
China’s capacity to manipulate and coerce Western infrastructure is gravely concerning. If leaders in government and the private sector cooperate with a corrupt system and the public is misinformed regarding CCP policies, there will be no leverage to force an end to China’s human rights abuses. Medical providers and educators must be informed of forced organ harvesting and not lose sight of their mission to save lives and train others to do the same.