A hundred years on, the Chinese Communist Party’s search for power continues.
The run-up to the CCP’s centenary has demonstrated both the Party’s pervasive propaganda apparatus and its desire to de-throne the US as the global superpower.
For too long the West naïvely hoped that China would reconcile itself with the liberal international order. Instead the CCP “assault[ed] any sign of dissent and… buil[t] a totalitarian surveillance state beyond George Orwell’s imaginings”, according to the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission.
China’s position as a global trading nation presents both an economic and ideological challenge to the West. As the CCP enters its centenary year, we have a duty to recognise and spread knowledge about the harmful influence it has on Western democracies. It is only by understanding the threat that we can take suitable action.
For the reasons outlined, Chinese expansionism, and what can be done to check it, has rapidly become a key feature of British foreign policy.
China is now being classed as an existential threat; the previous ‘Golden Era’ of UK-China relations has proved to be a “golden error”.
Despite measures to counter this, including limiting the installation of Huawei technologies and the BBC stripping China’s state broadcaster of its UK licence, the claws of the Chinese Dragon remain embedded in British institutions.
We see its influence in overseas Chinese associations, media outlets, universities and schools. As Clive Hamilton and Mareike Ohlberg argued in their book Hidden Hand, the British elite’s cultivation by the CCP is “so entrenched… that Britain has passed the point of no return”. Such a morose statement highlights the difficulties that lie ahead for Britain and the West in extricating themselves from Beijing’s orbit.
The CCP views elite capture as necessary to creating a world order more agreeable to Chinese authoritarianism. These efforts are often overseen by various parts of the CCP’s bureaucracy such as the External Propaganda Department and the United Front Work Department, which deceitfully frame China as a peace-lover rather than would-be conqueror.
This characteristic was understood by the great military theorist Clausewitz who observed that “[t]he aggressor is always peace-loving… he would prefer to take over our country unopposed”. In accordance with this theory, China’s ‘charm offensive’ has quickly become a potent channel through which Beijing exerts soft power.
A concerning outcome of China’s influence operations is the entanglement of the CCP in the UK’s educational institutions. Indeed, in light of a recent Civitas report, Tom Tugendhat, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, urged universities to decouple from CCP linked organisations.
The UK has more Chinese students than any other country, bringing in £1.7 billion a year in tuition fees. This cash-flow risks “creat[ing] dependencies and induce[s] self-censorship… self-limiting policies”, including inadvertently promoting China’s civil-military fusion.
Civitas’s report claims that at least 20 UK universities have relationships with 29 Chinese universities that have ties to the PLA (the Chinese military), as well as some of China’s largest weapons producers. These relationships are framed as purely academic, but are exploited to pilfer technology from the West, specifically in the areas of hypersonic missiles, radar jamming, robotics, spacecraft and stealth vehicles – all technologies that are earmarked by China’s military as key to setting it on the path to military dominance in the foreseeable future.
The CCP also manifests on campuses in the form of Hanban’s Confucius Institutes. These ‘centres of learning’ enable the CCP to exert ‘Huayuquan’ – discourse power – supressing discussion of the three Ts (Taiwan, Tibet and Tiananmen); the atrocities committed in Xinjiang; the CCP’s crackdown in Hong Kong; and PLA aggression across the ‘line of actual control’ between India and China.
As a Freedom House report notes, the CCP’s Huayuquan around these issues is amplified through “Beijing’s global megaphone”. The report goes on to explain that the CCP’s efforts to shape media content have reached “a new level”, with party-affiliated outlets broadcasting in at least 200 Chinese-language publications globally.
It is clear that the CCP is seeking a monopoly on the medium and the message surrounding Chinese international ambitions. Thus, by controlling the narrative, the CCP inveigles us into believing that what is in China’s interest is also in ours.
Consequently, it can seem that through the hidden hand of the CCP, China really is reshaping the world by stealth. Democracies worldwide must therefore better expose the CCP’s atrocities by harnessing our own Huayuquan, in the form of policy goals which specify what we are prepared to defend and how to defend it from encroaching authoritarianism. Only then will we make blatant the long-term costs of deepening ties with China and display the CCP for what it is – a Leninist regime seeking to whitewash its past and alter our present.