How China conducts “comprehensive coercion” of nations


From a new report by CSBA:

The range of Chinese political warfare operations in recent years is vast and includes operations to influence, pressure, coerce, bribe, corrupt, and/or exploit Western countries. The following highlights some of the key categories:

Mobilization of the ethnic Chinese diasporas. Staffs attached to Chinese embassies and consulates as well as agents employed under various commercial and other arrangements actively recruit, surveil, and attempt to control the activities of ethnic Chinese residents overseas. Numerous Chinese front organizations play important roles, such as recruiting personnel to undertake basic intelligence functions and reporting “non-patriotic” behavior. Ethnic Chinese who refuse to cooperate have been threatened with adverse consequences for relatives in China and for their own prospects following their return home.

Tasking of ethnic Chinese students in foreign countries to suppress anti-Beijing views.Chinese-sponsored student and related associations encourage members to confront, abuse and submit formal complaints against any staff, students, or members of the public who make statements or write articles that contain views contrary to those propounded by Beijing.

Sponsorship of pro-regime “educational” institutions in universities to foster pro-Chinese worldviews.Chinese companies and Chinese-funded associations and other entities have donated hundreds of millions of dollars to universities in the United States and other Western countries in apparent attempts to buy influence and encourage public support for Beijing’s views. Amongst these initiatives is the program funded and managed by the Chinese Department of Education to establish Confucius Institutes in Western universities and schools. There are now more than 100 Confucius Institutes in the United States and more than 500 in universities globally.

Substantial financial and other assistance to key individuals and institutions that are prepared to support China’s interests. Chinese government-associated entities fund numerous supposedly independent research institutes and also prominent individuals, including the officials of some Western political parties and leading politicians. Many are offered all-expenses-paid trips to China and exceptional access to senior regime personnel. The clear intent is to foster pro-China research and public commentary. Some individuals are also recruited as intelligence agents and “agents of influence.”

Large-scale information operations to build influence within and coerce Western media organizations.In September 2017 Xinhua reported the following Chinese media initiatives overseas:

Xi (Jinping) has told media groups to turn up their voices on the global stage, telling stories about the new, modern China, while developing flagship media groups with a strong global influence.

On Dec. 31, 2016, the China Global Television Network was launched with six TV channels, three overseas channels, a video content provider, and a cluster of services on social media platforms. State media outlets were established in almost all key regions and major cities across the globe.Chinese corporate and other entities have also sought to control Western media reporting on China by other means. In Australia and some other countries, pro-Beijing entities now own and tightly control almost all Chinese language newspapers and most Chinese language social media platforms. Chinese entities have also attempted to force leading Western publishers to censor their material in Beijing’s interests.

Leveraging trade and investment dependencies to coerce partners. On numerous occasions, Chinese officials have threatened “consumer-led” boycotts of national goods following Western and partner government announcements of policies to which Beijing objects. Notable instances have been threats against Japan, the Philippines, and Australia. In some cases, Beijing has gone further. For instance, following the decision by the Lotte Corporation of South Korea to permit an American THAAD missile defensesystem to be based on land it owns near Seoul, Chinese state-owned enterprises led a mass consumer boycott of Lotte department stores, forcing the company to sell its assets in China. Beijing also directed Chinese travel agents to delete tours to South Korea from their offerings, resulting in the number of Chinese tourists visiting parts of South Korea falling by 80 percent.58 A disturbing consequence of this Chinese coercion is that many Western and partner country enterprises and government agencies are deterred from taking any stand that may be seen as conflicting with the preferences of the Chinese Communist Party.

Mobilization of Chinese-owned companies to act in the interests of Beijing’s strategic goals. All major Chinese corporations operate under dual control: the managing board and the Chinese Communist Party. Xi Jinping has made clear that Chinese corporations are expected to be responsive to CCP interests and directions and, in nearly every instance, they are.

Chinese law requires businesses of any significance to establish Party organizations and facilitate their activities, which mainly involve study sessions on Beijing’s latest directives and the collection of membership fees. Among Chinese companies with full or partial foreign ownership, roughly 74,000 firms—70 percent of the total—had set up Party units by 2016. Party branches had also been established in 106,000 foreign-funded companies operating in China.

It is not unusual for the CCP to encourage or even direct Chinese corporations to purchase an overseas asset, build a facility, enter a market or undertake some other activity for non-commercial strategic purposes. In many cases, Chinese banks will provide financial assistance at favorable rates to companies commissioned to undertake these patriotic tasks. This is the case, for instance, with many infrastructure projects being launched overseas as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Recruitment of business leaders who have strong economic interests in China. Many senior Western businessmen and retired politicians and officials have been recruited with very high salaries to serve on the boards of Chinese companies and argue Beijing’s case on trade, technology, strategic infrastructure and other sensitive issues.

Seek to apply Chinese law within the United States and other countries. In recent years Chinese security agencies have sought to extend their operations into the United States and other allied countries in efforts to prosecute and enforce Chinese domestic law. As part of Beijing’s Operation Fox Hunt against so-called corrupt ethnic Chinese, regime officials even attempted to kidnap an ethnic Chinese person in New York against whom they wished to bring charges once they transported him to China.

Penetration of Western research and other institutions to access cutting-edge technologies.Chinese nationals with close ties to the Beijing regime (including at least one PLA officer) have undertaken research with potential national security applications within allied and other Western country universities and research institutes.

Sophisticated cyber operations against targeted countries. In its 2015 Global Threat Report, the American cyber intelligence firm CrowdStrike identified dozens of Chinese cyber entities targeting business sectors in the West that are key to Beijing’s Five-Year Plan. It found 28 Chinese cyber groups pursuing defense and law enforcement systems alone.64 Other sectors targeted worldwide included energy, transportation, government, technology, healthcare, finance, telecommunications, media, manufacturing, and agriculture. Chinese cyber operations have been estimated to involve hundreds of thousands of military personnel who have collectively stolen intellectual capital valued at some $300 billion annually.

Espionage operations against Western and partner countries.Official reports indicate that Chinese espionage operations are the most aggressive of all those undertaken by foreign countries within the United States.66 Primary operations include the clandestine acquisition of intellectual property, scientific and technological research, commercially sensitive information,and defense and national security data. A wide range of techniques is also used to interfere in national and allied affairs.

Negotiation of international partnerships to alter strategic balances.Beijing has made significant strategic gains by negotiating strategic partnerships of varying types with many countries in Southeast Asia, South and Central Asia, and Africa. Particularly notable is the strategic partnership concluded with the Russian Federation and the apparently warm personal relationship that has developed between Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin.

Geo-strategic maneuvers to extend Beijing’s influence over new areas. A key geo-strategic initiative has been Xi Jinping’s launching of the Belt and Road Initiative. This program aspires to construct road, rail, air, port, pipeline, electronic communications, and other infrastructure to link China more effectively with Southeast, South, and Central Asia; the Middle East; Europe; and Africa. Many analysts doubt the financial viability and sustainability of many of these projects. However, Xi Jinping appears convinced not only of the economic benefits but also of the barely-disguised geo-strategic vision of China dominating the Eurasian continent in the second half of the 21st century.

Extensive use of para-military and military forces to persuade, intimidate, and confront foreign forces in selected areas and forcibly to seize, occupy, and militarize strategically important locations. In order to more effectively exploit the gray zone between peace and war, Beijing has raised a series of maritime and land constabulary and militia forces that can harass and confront opponents and seize control of contested areas with a risk that is lower than would be the case if such operations were undertaken by the PLA. Operating alongside these units in many situations are commercial organizations of many types that provide most of the engineering, construction, and transport that is required. When these militias, paramilitary forces, and commercial organizations undertake strategically important operations (such as the island building, territorial seizure, and militarization of the South China Sea), they are almost always supported by powerful PLA forces, often lurking just over the horizon. These layered gray zone offensive operations have proven to be very effective in seizing strategically important territories and deterring forceful regional or major power intervention.6968 For an authoritative report on the Belt and Road Initiative, see Nadège Rolland,China’s Eurasian Century? Political and Strategic Implications of the Belt and Road Initiative (Washington DC: National Bureau of Asian Research, 2017). 69 See, for example, Ross Babbage,Countering China’s Adventurism in the South China Sea: Strategy Options for the United States and Its Allies (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and Strategic Forum, 2016), pp. 11–26.

Xi Jinping champions China’s political warfare operations as a “Magic Weapon,” over which he exercises command and control through the United Front Work Department and other agencies. China’s political warfare operations are well organized and centrally coordinated by key parts of the Chinese Communist Party infrastructure in Beijing. The strategic importance and scale of these operations are summarized well by Anne-Maree Brady:

In September 2014, Xi gave a speech on the importance of united front work, using Mao’s term to describe it as one of the CCP’s “Magic Weapons.”

. . . As in the Cold War years, united front work not only serves foreign policy goals, but can sometimes be used as a cover for intelligence activities. The Ministry of State Security, Ministry of Public Security, PLA Joint Staff Headquarters Third Department, Xinhua News Service, the United Front Work Department, the International Liaison Department are the main, but not the only, PRC Party-State agencies who recruit foreign, especially ethnic Chinese, agents for the purpose of collecting intelligence. In 2014, one former spy said that the Third Department had at least 200,000 agents abroad.

There are some propanganda-ish elements to this. Nonetheless, it’s hard to dodge the conclusion that a long and difficult struggle for our freedoms is afoot.

About the author
David Llewellyn-Smith is Chief Strategist at the MB Fund and MB Super. David is the founding publisher and editor of MacroBusiness and was the founding publisher and global economy editor of The Diplomat, the Asia Pacific’s leading geo-politics and economics portal. He is also a former gold trader and economic commentator at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, the ABC and Business Spectator. He is the co-author of The Great Crash of 2008 with Ross Garnaut and was the editor of the second Garnaut Climate Change Review.