China’s effort to export its Communism 2.0 ideology—recently updated with a few megabytes of Xi Jinping Thought—to America is off to a bit of a rocky start, judging from Tuesday’s dour report at the Party newsletter Global Times.
The Times laments that an attempt to establish a Chinese Communist Party wing at UC Davis failed spectacularly:
It was probably one of the most short-lived branches of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Just two weeks after Mu Xingsen, a Chinese associate professor now visiting the University of California, Davis, set up a Party branch at that campus, he folded the branch due to legal concerns.
Mu, originally from Dalian University of Technology in Northeast China’s Liaoning Province, set up the branch along with six other visiting scholars from China on November 6, according to the South China Morning Post, hoping that it would help them strengthen their commitment to Communism.
But he shut it down right after learning about the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires any person in the U.S. representing the interests of foreign powers in a “political or quasi-political capacity” to disclose their relationship with that foreign government as well as any information about related activities and finances.
Undaunted by this setback, Professor Su Wei of the Party School of the CPC Chongquing Municipal Committee boasted to the Global Times that “the rising number of overseas Party branches is a new phenomenon, showing the growing influence of the CPC and China.”
According to the newspaper of the People’s Liberation Army, there are now eight full overseas branches of the Communist Party of China, while exchange students and visiting scholars are spreading Party doctrine in over 20 foreign countries. The article specifically lists Spain, Portugal, Chile, Greece, Mexico, Italy, and the Netherlands.
The Global Times says Party members stationed at overseas branches are “required to hand in a report about their thoughts every three months, participate in a group Party activity and hold a Party meeting once every half-year, then report their activities to the university’s politics department.” These activities are intended to strengthen their commitment to communism and inoculate them against “the corrosive influence of harmful ideologies.”
“Apart from studying Party theory, overseas Party cells are also responsible for promoting Party and government policies,” the Global Times writes, cheerfully oblivious to the sinister connotations of the term “Party cell.”
“In 2011, SISU’s overseas Party cell members helped publicize China’s 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15) through interviews and opinion polls conducted among foreigners. In 2013, they interviewed foreigners for their views on the new slogan ‘Chinese Dream,’” the report adds, making it clear that a good deal of ideological proselytizing is being conducted by Chinese students and workers abroad.
Later in the article, the Global Times talks about the terrific opportunities for overseas Party-building presented by the massive “One Belt, One Road” international trade route. Zhen Xuexuan, vice president of the China State Construction Engineering Corporation, noted that overseas projects can last for years, so workers abroad need strong local Communist Party organizations to keep their minds right. “It is easy for their thoughts to fluctuate, posing challenges to the ideological and political work,” he fretted.
The Global Times cites concerns that proper Party-building is difficult on foreign soil, because while “hanging banners with Party slogans and showcasing photographs and stories of model Party members on walls” are common practices in China, they are “considered too sensitive or even outright banned due to differences in political and social systems” in other countries.
The Internet is proving to be a useful tool for overcoming these challenges to perpetuate Communist indoctrination. “Knowledge quizzes and study groups” have been conducted for Chinese workers abroad through social media. Big Chinese firms have used video conferences to “convey the Party’s messages to Party members abroad.”
Of course, Chinese citizens working abroad do not just get to enjoy watching Party lectures on streaming video. The Party is watching them through the Internet, too. The New York Times ran an article called “Beijing Hinders Free Speech in America” on Sunday in which history teacher Wang Dan described how the Chinese Communist Party has been able to stymie his efforts to teach exchange students about forbidden topics like the Tiananmen Square massacre, even on American campuses.
“Through a campaign of fear and intimidation, Beijing is hindering free speech in the United States and in other Western countries,” Wang warned:
The Chinese government, or people sympathetic to it, encourage like-minded Chinese students and scholars in the West to report on Chinese students who participate in politically sensitive activities—like my salons, but also other public forums and protests against Beijing. Members of the China Students and Scholars Association, which has chapters at many American universities, maintain ties with the Chinese consulates and keep tabs on “unpatriotic” people and activities on campuses. Agents or sympathizers of the Chinese government show up at public events videotaping and snapping pictures of speakers, participants and organizers.
Chinese students who are seen with political dissidents like me or dare to publicly challenge Chinese government policies can be put on a blacklist. Their families in China can be threatened or punished.
When these students return to China, members of the public security bureau may “invite” them to “tea,” where they are interrogated and sometimes threatened. Their passport may not be renewed. One student told me that during one of his home visits to China he was pressured to spy on others in the United States.
And in one egregious example of intimidation, in March 2016, the police in China abducted the relatives of the Chinese journalist Chang Ping, who lives in exile in Germany, after he published an article in a German publication that was critical of President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on free speech.
Wang went on to explain how visiting Chinese students steeped in their government’s “patriotic education program” are all too willing to surveil and intimidate their fellow students, both in person and online. He gave the example of student Shuping Yang, who was harassed, threatened, and ultimately pressured into apologizing and begging forgiveness for the crime of praising the “fresh air of free speech” at the University of Maryland last May.
“Even Western educational institutions that have benefited from Chinese government funding, student enrollment and Chinese private donations have succumbed to pressure from Beijing. Some have canceled activities or programs, and others have resorted to self-censorship,” Wang charged, noting that Chinese Communist Party influence in Australia is becoming a particular area of concern.
Let there be no doubt whatsoever: China is gearing up for full-scale ideological warfare with the West, and it is very interested in pushing its ideology to young people in Europe and the United States. China is highly adept at using market leverage to force Western companies to indulge and adopt its authoritarian ideals. It’s counting on economic engagement, in the form of the “One Belt, One Road” project, to spread communism the same way Western foreign policy experts once assumed economic engagement would spread classical liberalism to authoritarian countries.