“Cultural and influence diplomacy” plays an important role in France’s foreign policy. Values it aims to promote include human rights, democracy and the diversity of cultural expression. Yet, in Greater China, heavyweight united front figures such as Jonathan Choi and Pansy Ho — the focus of the present article — have become major donors to French cultural operations organised by French authorities, in spite of their public defence of policies and values at odds with those promoted by France. Both have pledged to advance “people-to-people diplomacy” — which, in the CCP’s language, effectively means acting in their unofficial capacity (both Choi and Ho are businesspersons) to further the party-state’s interests. Their newfound status as major donors to French cultural events has enabled them to gain easy access to France’s top diplomats and to increase their network within French political elites. It has also helped legitimise some of the positions they publicly defend on behalf of the Chinese party-state (on the security and political crackdown faced by Hong Kong since 2019, most notably). Lastly: it virtually allows them to acquire leverage over the organisation of French cultural operations in Greater China — although no undue attempt at censoring their content has been identified in the course of this research. In order to prevent cultural operations in Greater China from being slowly repurposed as quiet platforms serving the CCP’s external propaganda efforts, it could be recommended that French authorities rethink their funding policy for cultural operations in the country.
France’s “influence diplomacy” under CCP influence
United front figures exploit cultural cooperation to buy access and status.