Specter of Chinese Communist Party Diaspora Haunts the Chinese Diaspora newsusface

The FBI on Monday arrested and charged two American citizens of Chinese descent with illegally operating a “police station” on behalf of China’s Ministry of Public Security in New York City—one of more than 100 such outposts in over 50 countries around the world—including Italy (which reportedly has 11), Spain (9), Canada (5), the United States (4), and France (4). And these are just the ones that have come to light so far.

One of the functions of these illegal, hitherto-secret overseas Chinese police outposts is to monitor and harass Chinese dissidents in exile, such as myself, and to attempt to influence and control the Chinese diaspora at large. Although news of the arrests has focused the attention of the American people on the growing infiltration of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) into the social fabric of the U.S. and other democracies, the specter of the CCP haunting overseas Chinese communities is hardly a new phenomenon.

Beijing, which seeks to advance its nefarious political agenda both at home and abroad, has long viewed the Chinese diaspora as a strategic geopolitical pawn. Not long after the CCP took power in China, its ultra-powerful and ubiquitous United Front Work Department (UFWD) expanded to target China’s vast overseas diaspora in order to further the Chinese government’s divide-and-conquer efforts to usher in a CCP-led “new world order.”

Xi’s rise has coincided with UFWD’s growth, with the intelligence agency adding at least 40,000 cadres in recent years. The UFWD has expanded its capabilities exponentially during his tenure. In September 2020, the UFWD released a document titled “Opinions on Strengthening the United Front Work in the Private Sector in the New Era,” which specifically called for work to brainwash overseas Chinese residents into falling for the CCP’s increasingly blatant intentions to impose its ideological and socioeconomic aggression around the globe.

The CCP’s overseas operations have proven to be an effective tool for infiltrating, monitoring, influencing, and controlling the Chinese diaspora; and, in turn, for combating global opposition to the Communist superpower and promoting a narrative that suits its amoral interests. Moreover, this operation has expanded into almost every corner of the world and every walk of life. UFWD operations have penetrated democracies around the world: the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Germany, France, and the Netherlands—to name a few.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

In the decades since the end of the Cultural Revolution, there have been several waves of Chinese emigration, resulting in an ever-growing Chinese diaspora. In recent years, under Xi’s rule, Chinese emigration has skyrocketed as people’s expectations for China’s political and economic future continue to decline.

In his speech at the 20th National Party Congress in late 2022, Xi reiterated his belief that “the East is rising and the West is declining.” The CCP believes that China is tightly locked in a protracted competition with the United States, the outcome of which will not only shape the future world order but also determine Xi’s legacy. As China’s de facto emperor, Xi has become increasingly aggressive in mobilizing the Chinese diaspora—a long-term strategic resource for the CCP—to serve his political agenda at home and globally. And now, it has escalated to the point where illegal CCP “police stations” have sprung up around the world, so far with limited consequences.

Certainly, the CCP’s brazen illegal operations, as noted above, are a direct violation of U.S. sovereignty; and, more importantly, threaten to corrupt our cherished democratic freedoms. To date, China’s illegal overseas police outposts are arguably the most egregious act of infiltration of the world’s democracies, with the resulting threat to those countries’ national security an obvious and frightening consequence. Unfortunately, the specter of the CCP haunting the Chinese diaspora is the latest indication that the West faces an uphill (if not unwinnable) battle in defeating Communist China.

U.S. law enforcement has taken the first step in addressing this serious problem, which poses a grave threat to an American justice system free from foreign interference, and, more broadly, poses a threat to the very foundations of our democracy. But there is a larger question that needs to be asked and answered. Namely, how should the United States—a free and open society—deal with malevolent foreign forces, such as totalitarian China, that take advantage of, but do not respect, America’s freedom and openness?

The CCP’s overseas operations have proven to be an effective tool for infiltrating, monitoring, influencing, and controlling the Chinese diaspora; and, in turn, for combating global opposition to the Communist superpower and promoting a narrative that suits its amoral interests.

At present, there is no viable solution to this pressing question. The difficulty lies in the fact that many seemingly effective measures may lead us down a slippery slope that could jeopardize our long-standing democratic values and principles of judicial independence.

The CCP does not believe in openness, let alone the rule of law, with an unenforced constitution that is virtually meaningless. Chinese police operations are not registered as foreign agencies, as required by law, and have therefore remained secret, at least until recently when they were exposed. If this were a war, the CCP’s operation of illegal overseas “police stations” would be like soldiers in civilian clothes mingling with civilians going about their daily business—a “modern-day version” of guerrilla warfare, if you will. While such tactics violate the laws of war, they are extremely difficult to combat effectively without harming civilians.

When it comes to the virtually omnipresent UFWD, the United States must conduct precision attacks, while, importantly, distinguishing law-abiding overseas Chinese residents from CCP operatives. Any mistake in this regard could blur the essential line between the CCP regime on the one hand and Chinese nationals who have fled Communist China on the other, potentially alienating pro-American democracy Chinese-Americans and playing into the hands of the CCP.

In the meantime, as part of a comprehensive solution, the United States should pursue at least two broad policies:

First, concrete steps should be taken to help Chinese immigrants integrate quickly and effectively into mainstream society. Newer and less-integrated Chinese immigrants, especially those with poor English skills, are generally more vulnerable to the CCP’s carrot-and-stick tactics.

Second, the United States government must address the pervasive problem of Chinese-Americans who are afraid or reluctant to criticize the CCP, and thus choose to self-censor, because the CCP uses their families in China against them.

This is intrinsically a human rights issue. It is sad to say the U.S. will not be able to cease to engage in such distasteful warfare with the CCP on American soil until there is significant progress on human rights in China. So, it is always right, morally and strategically, to put human rights at the centre of U.S. foreign policy toward China.

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