Mapping China’s footprint in the world III

The annual Sinopsis workshop on the CCP’s global influence took place on 12 and 13 October.

The Sinopsis workshop on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its influence abroad gathers global experts to present original research and discuss the latest developments in the field, as well as policy and civil-society responses.

This year’s edition focused on national case studies, with ten presentations devoted to European locales and Japan. Other topics included recent research on the CCP’s technology-transfer activities, the role of think tanks in its influence abroad, the extraterritorial expansion of its concepts of security, and possible global responses to its human rights abuses.

The workshop was co-organised by the Oriental Institute of Czech Academy of Sciences with financial support from CAS Strategy AV21. The Czech News Agency (Česká tisková kancelář, ČTK) broadcast the event online.

Abstracts and video recordings of the presentations and discussion sessions are given below. Audio-only recordings of individual presentations will be uploaded shortly.

Last updated 23rd October.

Day 1

Kateřina Procházková, moderator.

Panel 0: The CCP and technology transfer

Olga Lomová, Martin Hála, opening remarks (video, audio, 17:23).

Alex Joske, The CCP’s talent recruitment efforts (video, audio, 17:54).

China’s talent-recruitment efforts such as the Thousand Talents Plan have attracted scrutiny by universities, funding bodies and law enforcement agencies in the United States. However, these efforts are global and high levels of recruitment activity have been observed in countries such as Australia and Canada, as well as across the European continent. This presentation will introduce these efforts and discuss responses governments, funding agencies and research institutions can take to manage them.

(See Joske, “Hunting the phoenix: The Chinese Communist Party’s global search for technology and talent”, ASPI, 20 August 2020.)

Audrey Fritz, University involvement in China’s military-civil fusion strategy (video, audio, 14:54).

As the Chinese Communist Party’s approach to science and technology (S&T) development evolves, its military-civil fusion (MCF) strategy is increasingly important for the international community to monitor. Since as early as 1995, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has invested in and implemented measures to develop the S&T research capabilities of its universities. Through various university development plans – including the 211 Project, the 985 Project, and more recently the Double First-Class University Plan – the PRC has mobilized its universities to serve as incubators for talent cultivation and S&T innovation. These plans have laid a foundation for implementing MCF research and development. The Double First-Class University Plan, introduced in 2018, explicitly aims to better integrate universities into the MCF system to promote dual-use technology transfers. The Thirteenth Five-year Plan for S&T Military and Civil Fusion reinforces these aims by emphasizing the need for cooperation between enterprises, research institutes, and universities to successfully achieve MCF-motivated innovations. Universities serve as a unique platform for international cooperation, which positions them at the forefront of the CCP’s MCF strategy to modernize its military, develop its economy and increase its global influence.

Didi Kirsten Tatlow, Beyond espionage: China’s quest for foreign technology (video, audio, 18:36).

What may be the greatest technology transfer of history is underway and has been since 1949, conducted by the CPC, with the goal of thoroughly (finally!) “modernizing” China and challenging the post-World War II order to achieve global leadership, or at least dominance on par with the United States. Some thoughts from a just-published book on what are the key structures, how they work, and why the world knew so little for so long.

(See William C. Hannas and Didi Kirsten Tatlow (eds.), China’s Quest for Foreign Technology: Beyond Espionage, Routledge, 2020.)

Filip Jirouš, Disregarded interest: Czech academic exchange with PRC defence-linked entities (video, audio, 22:13).

While cooperation between Czech and Chinese research institutions remains limited, the publicly known cases showing the PRC’s interest in Czech military or dual-use technology should alert the country’s universities to the inherent risks of cooperation with defense-linked institutions in China. The presentation will discuss the conclusions of the first survey of Czech academic ties to PRC defense-linked educational institutions, part of a research project conducted in cooperation with Czech Radio. Responses from the Czech universities confronted with these facts largely point to a lack of awareness of the issue and of tools for vetting risky partnerships with PRC universities. They appear to treat their Chinese counterparts as regular academic establishments, when in reality they are ultimately controlled by a political party, lack academic freedoms and often keep much closer relations with the military and security apparatuses than is disclosed in their external messaging. This had led to the establishment of pilot training programs with defense and military-linked organizations, meetings between united front groups and Czech academic circles, cooperation with controversial talent programs and other problematic collaborations. While scholarly exchanges seem standard to Czech academics, local universities have been targeted by precise cyber attacks traced back to PRC seeking to obtain know-how in niche research fields. Despite the disregarding claims of some individuals and organizations involved, it is clear the PRC and its military-industrial complex are interested in the products of Czech scientific labor: as it was revealed in this study, even the Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics (CAEP), which develops the PRC’s nuclear warheads, once sought to exploit university exchanges to obtain Czech technology.

(See Jirouš, “Nothing of interest in a small country? Czech-Chinese academic exchange in the age of military-civil fusion”, Sinopsis, 22 September 2020.)

Discussion (video, audio, 21:37).

Panel 1: The CCP’s human rights abuses and global responses

Kate Saunders, New findings on Tibet and their impact on ‘telling Tibet’s story’ (video, audio, 27:01).

The CCP says it has developed new ‘creative methods’ for telling Tibet’s story to the world in the 21st century. Inside Tibet, the Party’s stated aims of breaking lineages, tearing up cultural roots and instilling the ‘red gene’ have reached a new level, in the context of a policy arc from the ‘patriotic education’ of the late 1990s onwards. On the world stage, new findings on military-style training and labour transfer have raised questions about similarities and differences to the ‘Xinjiang model’. This paper will assess unfolding narratives on Tibet, the ‘impregnable fortress’ according to Xi Jinping, in the light of the more entrenched ideological emphasis of the Seventh Work Forum on Tibet in August.

Magnus Fiskesjö, Chen Quanguo and Reinhard Heydrich: Parallel features of Communist Chinese and Nazi German genocidal and forced-assimilation policies (video, audio, 26:41).

This paper is focused on the categorization of targeted populations in the current Chinese genocide, compared to the Nazi genocide. In the occupied Czech lands set up by the Nazis as the Protectorate of Böhmen and Mähren, Heydrich, a top Nazi until his Prague assassination in 1942, drafted and began to carry out extensive plans for the forced Germanization of the population, and the elimination of those deemed un-Germanizable. The Nazi project was cut short, but clearly resonates in the categorizations and implementation of the Chinese Communist project Uyghurs and other native peoples of East Turkestan/Xinjiang, in China’s genocidal project executed there since 2017. Such shared features suggest the shared ideological framing which is implemented by Chen and Heydrich – two men who also deserve comparison as primarily enforcers of genocidal ideologues in turn issued from their leaders above.

Andréa Worden, The Beijing 2022 Winter Games: A threat to the Olympic ideal and human rights globally (video, audio, 19:15).

The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games represent an unprecedented challenge to universal human rights and Olympism, which “seeks to create a way of life based on [inter alia] “respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.” The Chinese party-state has openly rejected universal values in theory and in practice. The Olympic ideal’s aim to promote “a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity” is inconceivable in a country whose government is engaged in crimes against humanity targeting its ethnic and religious minorities. Now, with the assault on Hong Kong’s civil and political liberties and the deeply problematic Hong Kong National Security Law, no one is beyond Beijing’s reach. But we’re supposed to put such concerns aside, and not “politicize” the Games, the PRC Foreign Ministry warns. It is the Chinese government that has made the 2022 Winter Games political because of its atrocious human rights record, and the Games will become a referendum on the “correctness” of China’s policies with respect to the Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hong Kong, and Southern Mongolians.

Assuming that the International Olympic Committee will not move the Games out of China– despite growing calls for it to do so– this article explores possible responses, and ultimately concludes (reluctantly) that the coalition of democracies should boycott the Games. Participating in any way in the Games is tacit approval of the CCP’s horrific human rights practices and disturbing human rights theories; the CCP will utilize this enormous, home-based, international stage to the fullest to demonstrate support for the China model and “China’s wisdom.” The democracies shouldn’t be unwitting participants in that show, but instead should make clear, strong statements in support of human rights, universal values and the victims of CCP rule.

Discussion (video, audio, 33:10).

Day 2

Kateřina Procházková, moderator.

Panel 2: Case studies I

Aki Tonami, Ends justify the means? The CCP’s influence in Hokkaidō.

Japan is one of the most strategically important countries for China; however, the CCP’s influence in Japan, particularly in a modern context, has not received the attention it deserves. There have been previous works on this topic, such as Hsiao (2019) and Stewart (2020), but more research is needed given the CCP’s wide-ranging influencing activities in Japan. Against this background, this paper attempts to investigate the CCP’s influence in Japan, focusing on Hokkaido Prefecture. Hokkaido is Japan’s northern-most prefecture and has historically played a role as a national frontier, as well as a vital point for Japan’s relationship with Russia. Although Japan’s largest prefecture, Hokkaido has long suffered from economic decline and has sought various ways to revive its economy, including actively seeking foreign investment. In this regard, Hokkaido has been an attractive entry point for the CCP to solidify its economic and political influence in Japan. Moreover, in the Xi Jinping era, China has used subnational relations, such as sister city relations, to infiltrate its economic agenda to a target nation’s foreign policy (Brady 2017). There is no previous research on the CCP’s influence in Hokkaido.

Pär Nyrén, CCP influence work in Sweden beyond wolf warrior diplomacy.

The diplomatic relations between Sweden and China has taken a sharp turn for the worse in recent years. The Chinese party-state’s defense of the extraterritorial kidnapping of the Swedish citizen Gui Minhai and particularly harsh “wolf warrior” diplomacy of the embassy in Stockholm has caught the eye of domestic and international audiences. Meanwhile a vast number of CCP actors are engaged in a set of activities to influence Swedish society. Efforts to co-opt the diaspora and other united front work have only recently been brought to the public’s attention. Lack of familiarity with the methods employed by the CCP has arguably prevented understanding of how the party acts within Sweden.

(See Nyrén, “The CCP’s United Front Network in Sweden”, China Brief 20:16, 16 September 2020.)

Matti Puranen, China’s influence operations in Finland: A preliminary case study (video, audio, 26:08).

Authors of a chapter on China-Finland relations in a fresh report by the European Think-tank Network on China (ETNC) claimed that they did not find “any examples of pressure being exerted by China [on Finland]” and that China “does not seem to be exerting political influence in Finland.” At the same time however, information on China’s influencing activities within the country is surfacing in small but noteworthy pieces: shady business dealings between members of the Finnish parliament and Chinese state investors, Chinese sponsored information operations led from the city of Tampere and the activities of the Finnish branch of an agency under the United Front Work Department, the Finland Association for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China (FAPPRC) are only among the most visible cases during the last year.

The presentation provides the first case study on China’s influence activities in Finland by focusing on the the key United Front-affiliated networks and associations in the country (i.e. the FAPPRC, the Nordic Zhigong association and the Chinese Association of Science and Technology in Finland). The presentation also touches upon Chinese connections to the Finnish parliament as well as Chinese information operations in Finland.

Frank Jüris, CCP foreign affairs work and Estonian parties in the ILD’s grip (video, audio, 16:15).

There is every reason to study China’s influence activities in Estonia, a country where three former ministers provide lobbying services for Chinese company Huawei. China’s influence activities include propaganda work, which aims to create positive image of China and rejects any kind of criticism. United front work in countries with big Chinese communities takes the form of mobilising Chinese diaspora for the party’s benefit, of which there are plenty of examples from neighbouring countries like Finland and Sweden. This presentation focuses on foreign affairs work, where the CCP Central Committee’s International Liaison Department (ILD) is responsible for exchanges with foreign parties. The ILD has actively interacted with Estonian politicians, which to a large extent has so far gone unnoticed. This presentation aims to fill this gap by analysing Estonian interactions with the ILD by borrowing its terminology of the “four grips” (抓) on political parties, research, contacts and image.

(See “Hiina mõjutustegevus Eestis”, ICDS, 17 September 2020; “Estonian parties in the CCP’s grip: The International Liaison Department’s influence activities”, Sinopsis, 25 September 2020.)

Discussion (video, audio, 14:07).

Panel 3: Case studies II

Filip Jirouš, Under the radar: The role of coopted diaspora groups in Czech and European united front work (video, audio, 12:43).

As is true in much of Europe, the influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the Czech Republic heavily relies on the cultivation of political elites by party-state organs, overshadowing the role of coopted groups within the Chinese diaspora. However, the Chinese community’s previously under-researched interactions with PRC and European politics at the local and national level–as displayed in the CCP’s power to mobilize them for COVID-19-themed propaganda–point to a need to better understand the contribution of the CCP’s diaspora work to its larger political influence work in the continent. This contribution will present the results of the first comprehensive study of CCP united front work in a European country, especially one that lacks a large integrated Chinese diaspora. The findings point to the existence of incentives to form groups that mimic PRC mass organizations, defined by affiliation with smaller PRC administrative units, rather than organizations aiming to represent the entire local diaspora. The talk will also describe the role of pan-European united front groups, whose creation the PRC political system has been supporting for decades, in CCP influence work in the Old Continent.

(See Jirouš, “The Role of Coopted Diaspora Groups in Czech and European United Front Work”, China Brief 20:16, 16 September 2020.)

Justina Razumaitė, Pros and cons in Lithuania’s China debate (video, audio, 23:22).

In recent years, China has become one of the most debated issues among Lithuania’s foreign policy and security experts, decision makers, politicians, media and society. The debate was inspired not only by China’s growing ambitions worldwide, more aggressive international and regional behavior, but also by China’s more active steps on Lithuanian soil. This was followed by mentioning China for the first time in Lithuania’s national security report in February 2019. Besides, Lithuania is a participating country in the 17+1 format, and this also generates some interesting aspects in Lithuania’s China policy. Thus, the goal of this presentation is to review the dynamics of Lithuania’s China debate and deepen the understanding of China’s influence in Lithuania.

Łukasz Sarek, Money, greed and propaganda: A Chinese publishing house in Poland and its local partners (video, audio, 24:21).

Marszałek Publishing Group (MPG) is the largest publishing house in Poland involved in the publication and distribution of Chinese books. The core publishing business of MPG is centered on Wydawnictwo Adam Marszałek (WAM) and Time Marszałek Group (TMG). In 2012, MPG was sold to Anhui Publishing Group (APG) effectively establishing a fully Chinese owned publishing house in Poland.

Every year, TMG and WAM publish dozens of books on Chinese culture, history, economy and politics. They are either politically neutral or praise the CPC’s rule and achievements, with some works bluntly conveying CPC propaganda. For TMG, an important source of revenues over the years has consisted in subsidies from Chinese publishing houses. WAM and TMG are members of associations the CPC guides or controls directly or indirectly. The group has also received support from the Polish embassy and government agencies. Adam Marszałek organizes or attends multiple meetings where Chinese officials, publishers, members of cultural circles and businesspeople meet their Polish counterparts. In many cases, he facilitates contacts between both sides. Marszałek also heads the Asia and Pacific Society, which organizes a large-scale Asia-related scholarly event, the International Asian Congress, gathering researchers, diplomats and business representatives.

Discussion (video, audio, 28:41).

Panel 4: Case studies III

Ralph Weber, Working the fringes: An analysis of CCP/PRC influence networks in Switzerland (video, audio, 20:06).

This report sets out to trace and portray the personal and institutional networks used by the Chinese Party-State to influence Swiss society, economy and politics in their views on sensitive political issues (Tibet, Taiwan, Xinjiang, etc.) as much as on the image of China more generally. The focus is on united front activities and co-opted Swiss actors, who might or might not be aware of their co-optation. I will argue that much of the registered activities work the fringes of Swiss-Chinese interactions (which makes it difficult to reveal direct lines of influence) and serve the purpose of silencing critical voices and normalizing China as a legitimate source of normativity in the global arena despite continuing and even increasing ideological divides. The goal of the report is to give a comprehensive overview of CCP/PRC influence networks in Switzerland (in view of this country’s particular profile) and, on a theoretical level, to contribute to efforts at conceptualizing these activities beyond the vague notion of “influence”. The methodology consists in searching and analyzing journals, news reports and other documents provided by the actors themselves and readily available in the public domain.

(See Barbara Klingbacher, «Ich weiss nicht, auf welcher Seite jemand steht», NZZ Folio, September 2020.)

Didi Kirsten Tatlow, The WRSA, healthcare, and Germany (video, audio, 21:40).

COVID-19 has offered the CPC rich opportunities to expand its “Health Silk Road” both practically and propagandistically. Even before the virus hit, key medical and academic institutions in Berlin were involved in furthering the United Front’s agenda through a new health-focused, “science and culture” forum with influential ties not just into European healthcare, but politics, business and technology. An examination.

Quentin Genaille, The CCP’s invisible hand in Brussels: Debunking the myth of a mutual understanding (video, audio, 16:12).

The paper demonstrates that Brussels-based individuals and organisations, in the name of fostering the relations between China, the EU and Belgium, participate in Beijing’s effort to impose its narrative in a way that serves its political objectives: building an image of China as the embodiment of multilateralism, reciprocity and friendly relations while concealing critical voices. The actors involved – chambers of commerce, politicians, universities, cultural associations, diaspora groups – form a network whose potential to influence relies on qualitative and diversified interactions with CCP-driven organisations. Benefiting from Brussels’ concentration of powers and lobbying culture, the influence effort is backed by the publicity of thriving economic collaborations, and the legitimacy generated by prestigious partnerships and high-level connections.

Discussion (video, audio, 21:44).

Panel 5: Expanding Leninist control

Nadège Rolland, The role of think tanks in the CCP’s influence work (video, audio, 23:09).

Since 2012, the CCP has endeavored to create “new types of think tanks with Chinese characteristics.” Rather than inaugurating a flourishing new phase for independent think tanks and research centers, the new guidelines aim at reinforcing control over the production of scholarly work and at transforming think tanks into instruments serving the policies of the Party-State. In particular, they are expected to help expand China’s international influence, disseminating its ideas and enhancing the appeal of its model on the international stage. The presentation will examine the ways Chinese think tanks are taking up this important task.

Matt Johnson, Extraterritorial systems of security and ideological extrusion (video, audio, 22:42).

This research examines how Chinese Communist Party and state institutions of social control extend into foreign countries, with a focus on Europe. In particular, it examines recent developments related to security, law, and extrajudicial coercion. Case studies include state-to-state legal cooperation, policing, early warning technology, pursuit of those accused of corruption and economic crimes, and the consular system. Along the way it describes internal reforms to China’s political-legal system, and how the outcomes of these reforms may impact the international legal environment.

Martin Hála, The internal logic of Leninist systems as an analytical tool to decode CCP activities (video, audio, 21:58).

Discussion (video, audio, 21:03).

Olga Lomová, concluding remarks (video, audio, 11:49).

Sinopsis is a project implemented by the non-profit association AcaMedia z.ú., in scholarly collaboration with the Department of Sinology at Charles University in Prague. The Oriental Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences (CAS), a public research institution, co-organised the 2019 Sinopsis workshop with financial support from CAS Strategy AV21.

Papers presented at the 2019 workshop

Alex Joske, “The Central United Front Work Leading Small Group: Institutionalising united front work”, 23 July 2019.

Ketty W. Chen, J. Michael Cole, “CCP and proxy disinformation: Means, practices, and impact on democracies”, 26 July 2019.

Charles Burton, “Recent PRC influence operations to counter public demands for a more effective response to the Chinese régime’s political interference in Canada”, 31 July 2019.

Andréa Worden, “The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee: A new tool in China’s anti-human rights strategy”, 6 August 2019.

Ondřej Klimeš, “China’s Xinjiang work in Turkey”, 11 August 2019.

Nadège Rolland, “Mapping the footprint of Belt and Road influence operations”, 12 August 2019.

Gerry Groot, “The CCP’s Grand United Front abroad”, 24 September 2019.

Didi Kirsten Tatlow, “Mapping China-in-Germany”, 2 October 2019.

Jichang Lulu, “Repurposing democracy: The European Parliament China friendship cluster”, 26 November 2019.