China is tightening its remote control of overseas Communist Party members to promote a positive image of China

The Chinese government has long sought help from overseas Chinese and students to promote a positive image of China, and the requests are increasingly being directed at party members.

The Chinese government’s demands on overseas Chinese and students to promote a positive image of China and conduct political propaganda have long been widely reported in media both inside and outside China’s Internet firewall. But the demands are increasingly being targeted at overseas Chinese who are party members, according to a Financial Times report on Wednesday (July 3).

Not a new phenomenon
The Financial Times pointed out that the Chinese government has instructed its overseas citizens to promote China’s image through online seminars and other channels and to study political materials sent from China. The Financial Times interviewed 10 Chinese Communist Party members studying and working in the United States, and all of them said they had complied with the Communist Party’s demands and made positive statements about China in public.

Yang Han, a former Chinese diplomat in Sydney who now lives in Australia, told the station he understood the actions of overseas party members: “International students, especially those preparing to return to China for work after graduation, need to maintain good relationships with their embassies and consulates. Especially in China’s current economic situation, many are trying to find some kind of civil service job in government agencies.”

Such moves to tighten control over overseas party members seem to be a new phenomenon that has emerged in recent years. The reporter said that there were few similar demands among Chinese students studying in the United States in the 2000s, but it is unclear whether they exist.

Yang Han said that when he was a diplomat at the Chinese Embassy in Sydney many years ago, the CCP’s regulations had some organizational requirements for overseas student party members: “According to the CCP’s regulations, you must regularly participate in party group activities while overseas. For international students, this is organized by the education department of the embassy.”

In May 2019, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China promulgated the “Regulations on the Management of the Education of Communist Party Members of China,” which established new regulations for the management of overseas studying party members. Among other things, party members studying abroad must maintain organizational ties with the party organizations of their universities or workplaces, contact them at least once every six months, and resume organizational life in accordance with regulations after returning home. These regulations appear to be helping to strengthen the management of overseas party members.

In reality, however, the Chinese Communist Party has already expanded its party organizations overseas. According to a 2013 report by the officially China-backed Communist Party News Network, the party committee of the National University of Defense Technology, a military university in China, has established an overseas party branch for students studying abroad. This tightening of control over Chinese party members abroad also appears to be affecting China’s overseas propaganda activities.

Promotional activities with official background

Gu Yi, an independent commentator who recently graduated from the University of Georgia, told the station that during his time at the university, he witnessed many activities organized by the China Students and Scholars Association to promote China. Although it is unclear whether the student association members who participated in the propaganda activities had party backgrounds, this kind of propaganda clearly had official traces. “The China Students Association organized several cultural exchange activities and entertainment activities, and the image of China presented in these activities was that China has a glorious history, a vast and beautiful land, 56 ethnic groups, and is harmless to humans and animals.”

Gu Yi said the problem with this propaganda is that it avoids many aspects of reality: “They present a one-sided image. When they show the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, they make us forget that it was originally the homeland of Tibetans but was occupied by China. When they show Tiananmen Square, they avoid what happened there in 1989.” He said that once when Chinese students demonstrated milk tea, they specified it as “China-Taiwan” milk tea and were reluctant to call it Taiwanese milk tea.

Yang Han, an Australian resident, noted that some pro-China Chinese communities in Australia often use local communities on social media platforms such as WeChat to promote China and convey pro-China stances at major events. He believes such propaganda can easily influence some Chinese groups. “Even though Chinese students and immigrants are overseas, they are pure-hearted and tend to accept and promote the Chinese Communist Party’s political propaganda.”

However, the Australian government has long been wary of official Chinese propaganda aimed at overseas Chinese communities. In 2018, Australia passed the Foreign Interference Act, which has had some impact on Australia’s response to China-related incidents and Sino-Australian relations.

Yang Han said that since the law came into effect, these pro-China groups have significantly reduced their propaganda activities in the community. “Previously, anyone could openly organize activities in support of cross-strait unification and against secession. These were public relations activities supported by the Chinese embassy. Now, such activities are rare, as the leaders of these groups are also very smart and cannot openly challenge such a law.”

Overseas Party Members Caught in the Middle

Australia’s Chinese community appears to be caught between the influence of Chinese authorities and local Australian law, a situation that is similar to that occurring in the United States.

Under U.S. law, “members of the Communist Party or totalitarian political parties, or persons politically connected with such parties or their affiliates or subsidiaries” cannot obtain green cards. The Financial Times reported that some overseas party members interviewed in the U.S. concealed their party membership in order to apply for green cards. The U.S. State Department said it has stepped up its screening of Chinese green card applicants and that the approval rate for Chinese green card applications has fallen by 17% since 2016.

Chen Chuangchuang, a lawyer in the United States and secretary-general of the China Democratic League National Committee, told the Bureau that in the course of handling immigration cases, he has encountered applicants who were former members of the Chinese Communist Party. Chen said he usually warns applicants to submit reports based on their actual circumstances, and that there is no practical point for them to hide their membership in the Chinese Communist Party.


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