UN with Chinese Characteristics: Elite Capture and Discourse Management on a global scale

[By Sinopsis and Jichang Lulu; also published on China Digital Times]

The PRC’s involvement in UN affairs has been on the rise in recent years. It has become one of the largest contributors to the organisation, in terms of both funds and soldiers. Now it wants influence. 

True to its attention to propaganda, the CCP has made it a major goal of its UN work to maximise its ‘discursive power’ at the organisation, seeking to redefine ‘human rights’ and get Xi Jinping’s pet initiatives institutionally endorsed by an international body. These goals, repeatedly stated by authoritative sources, are being pursued through both diplomacy and other means. 

Specialised CCP organs like the United Front Work Department and party-linked entities like CEFC employ some unorthodox tactics. These tactics, including elite capture and bribery, are applied both locally in vulnerable countries, and globally at the world’s foremost multilateral body. Some actors flawlessly span the whole range from individual East European and African states all the way to top UN officials. Evidence from recent court cases suggests a pattern of global interference combining both local and global “political work”.

 

The UN talks the Xi-Talk

Growing Chinese influence has made UN officials more and more willing to explicitly support the CCP’s political, economic and purely propagandistic projects. The PRC has managed to pass two resolutions at the Human Rights Council (HRC). The most recent one, in March, promoted “mutually beneficial cooperation in the field of human rights”together with such illustrious champions of said field as Eritrea, Cuba, Syria and Venezuela. The first resolution invoked a favourite concept of Xi Jinping’s, the “community of shared future”, thus officially making  Xi-speak (习语) part of the UN lingo.

Controlling discourse at the UN human-rights system has been a priority for the CCP since the PR-debacle it suffered post-Tian’anmen. Tactics to impose “human rights with Chinese characteristics” have ranged from usual diplomacy to more characteristic intimidation. A central goal is to obstruct the work of NGOs within the UN system, embedding the CCP’s abhorrence of civil society into a new global ‘human-rights’ normal. 

In what a former HRC special rapporteur has called a “Trojan horse”, the vague ‘win-win’ language in the UN resolutions channels a state-centric approach that sees human rights as primarily the rights of rulers. Not long ago, the CCP had to rely on a few bizarre characters to promote its ‘human rights’ redefinition: from Tom Zwart, a Dutch academic who finds talk of repression “unfair to the progress in human rights under Xi”, to a mysterious  “Human Rights Co., Ltd” of New South Wales. The HRC is now part of that club and this language infiltrates its resolutions. The US withdrawal from the Council will further accelerate this process. 

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The PRC joins like-minded states in the pursuit of mutual benefit. Source: UNHRC.

Xi Jinping’s ‘discursive power (话语权)’ isn’t limited to the human-rights system. International endorsements of Xi’s pet ‘Belt and Road’ initiative (BRI) are a major goal of propaganda efforts involving media, domestic and foreign like-minded think tanks, and various multilateral organisations. “Multilateralist” language has indeed been recognised as a tool to “dispel misgivings” about Xi’s geopolitical project. When conducting “external propaganda [对外宣传, exoprop]”, instead of haranguing countries to “participate in the construction of the ‘Belt and Road’”, implying a leading role for China, one should call for countries to “cooperate” in such construction: with China, but also “with each other, multilaterally”. China’s Belt and Road should not be called “China’s Belt and Road”; “let us stress ‘us’, not ‘me’”. The predilection for the term ‘initiative’ over ‘strategy’ in external propaganda reflects this: although we don’t deny that the Belt and Road is part of the national strategy, when “propagandising and explaining it” abroad we can’t call it “a national strategy led by one country”: “would a country want to participate in another’s national strategy?” In this quest for multilateral-sounding backing, the UN was the big prize.

 

Discourse management at the UNDP

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) provided a suitable avenue. In early 2015, in a journal under the State Council Development Research Center (DRC, 国务院发展研究中心),  Wang Yiwei 王义桅, a senior BRI-proselytising academic with his own column on the People’s Daily theory website, advocated “integrating the Belt and Road into the [UNDP] Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda, implementing the 18th Party Congress ‘Five-in-One’ [五位一体] concept” and “building a green Silk Road”. Propaganda portal Zhongguo wang 中国网 reposted Wang’s article on 4 May, coinciding with a Beijing visit by the head of the UNDP, former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark. Talking to state media, Clark was at that point still non- committal about BRI. She was more receptive towards efforts to associate BRI with the UNDP 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Less than a month after the Agenda’s adoptionshe told Xi and others in Beijing that China’s “commitment” to his BRI project helped make the country “a major contributor to development co-operation”. 

On the same trip, she had a chance to discuss BRI and an attendant discourse-management endeavour, the Silk Road Think-Tank Network (丝路国际智库网络), at the signature of an agreement with the DRC.  By early 2016, an SIIS paper was already celebrating the expected propaganda milestone: the convergence between BRI and the Sustainable Development Agenda “helps China obtain more discursive power and influence within the new international system of development governance and even the entire global governance architecture.” Mid-year, Xi himself linked BRI to the Agenda at a meeting with secretary general Ban Ki-moon. The Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), a UN department described by a European diplomat as “a Chinese enterprise”, endorsed the BRI-Agenda link in a study commissioned by the PRC State Information Center (SIC, 国家信息中心) and written by a DESA employee who began his career at the SIC’s predecessor entity. 

In September, now campaigning for UN secretary general, Clark signed a memorandum with the National Development and Reform Commission “to enhance collaboration” for the “implementation” of BRI and the Agenda, this time literally pledging the organisation’s “support for the Belt and Road Initiative”. Clark praised Xi’s Initiative, a “powerful platform” that “can serve as an important catalyst and accelerator for the sustainable development goals”. Clark would later deny any connection between her support for BRI and her campaign for the top UN job, during which her successor as New Zealand prime minister helpfully opined she was “recognised as a friend of China”. She lost (ironically blocked by, among others, China), but the winner, António Guterres, endorsed BRI at the 2017 Belt and Road Forum in Beijing. Post-Clark, UNDP has preserved her Xiist legacy.

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Li Wei 李伟, head of the Development Research Center of the State Council, and then UNDP Administrator Helen Clark oversee the signature of an MoU, October 2015. Source: DRC.

Guterres’ promotion of BRI as a useful tool to fight poverty blissfully disregards multiplestudies warning that the Initiative can lead poor countries into a “debt trap”. Perhaps the same logic lies behind his praise for the PRC’s diplomatic efforts in solving the Korean crisis, despite its violation of UN sanctions by shipping oil to North Korea.

 

CEFC at work locally and globally 

The CCP presumably owes these propaganda victories at the UN to good old diplomatic horse trading, sheer economic size and some harassment. But its growing influence has also been accompanied by a striking, unprecedented phenomenon: a series of corruption scandals reaching to the top levels of the organisation. Surfacing cases of bribery raise suspicions that China is effectively buying the UN, top down. 

This approach appears to mirror at a global level the PRC’s tactics in its bilateral relationships with individual states, especially the more vulnerable ones in Africa, Latin America, SE Asia and Eastern Europe. “Elite capture” in many of these countries has been accompanied by reports of and court indictments for outright corruption at the highest political level. Moreover, reported cases of global and local corruption intertwine, linked by specific actors operating both at the level of nation states and the UN system. Among these, perhaps the most curious is a mysterious Chinese conglomerate called CEFC. Various parts of the company have been connected with elite capture in Eastern Europetop-level political corruption in Africa, and bribery at the UN headquarters in New York. 

The director of CEFC’s non-profit subsidiary, former Hong Kong official Patrick Ho (何志平), was indicted last year in the US, accused of bribing several African politicians, including Ugandan foreign minister Sam Kutesa, former president of the UN General Assembly (UNGA). Coinciding with his arrest, CEFC donated 1 million USD to the UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs (DESA, the UN organ described as “a Chinese enterprise”). Just a day after Ho’s arrest, both the UN secretary general and UNGA president excused themselves from attending the ceremony to award a $1m DESA grant with “funding support” from CEFC. But DESA still kept the money.

According to the indictment, Patrick Ho had 500 000 USD wired to an account chosen by Kutesa, months after making CEFC chairman Ye Jianming, Ho’s boss, his “special honorary advisor” as UNGA president. (Kutesa denies the allegation.) Ho has been quoted as claiming that the case is not just against him, but against CEFC and the Belt and Road.

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Sam Kutesa, UN General Assembly president, CEFC chairman Ye Jianming and his second in command, Chan Chauto 陈秋途 at Ye’s appointment as advisor. August 2015. Source.

Earlier that year, in April 2015, Ye had been appointed “economic advisor” to Czech president Miloš Zeman. (Except for one news item on the Chinese internet, Ye’s Czech appointment would remain unreported until September that year.) Ye Jianming is currently being held by the Chinese authorities at an unknown location.

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Vratislav Mynář, head of the office of Czech president Miloš Zeman, Ye Jianming and Chan Chauto at Ye’s appointment as advisor. April 2015. Source.

 

Serial Corruption at the UNGA

Remarkably, these accusations against CEFC are already the second case of a UNGA’s president bribed by Chinese entities. Last May, Macau tycoon Ng Lap Seng 吴立胜 was sentenced to 4 years in prison for bribing Kutesa’s predecessor as UNGA president, the Antiguan John Ashe, and a Dominican deputy ambassador to the UN, Francis Lorenzo. The indictment claimed that Ng spent more than $1.3m to get the UN to support the construction of a large UN conference centre in Macau; in exchange for bribe money, Ashe and Lorenzo submitted to the UN secretary general a document stating that the conference centre would “support the UN’s global development goals”. In other words, Ng’s bribery had similar goals to those pursued by the PRC through usual diplomatic channels (with the addition of direct profit for Ng’s company). Ashe died while awaiting trial. Ng claimed the case was politically motivated. He was found guilty on all counts.

At the time he bribed Ashe and Lorenzo, Ng was a sitting member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), an advisory body part the United Front system that did not expel him despite his arrest. He was not reappointed last January.

CEFC also interacted with Ashe. In 2014, DESA and CEFC’s think tank co-organised an event about China’s urbanisation plans, with PRC academics as speakers, Patrick Ho as moderator and Ashe as “officiating guest”. An announcement for the event published by DESA, written in a style somewhat resembling Ho’s own, asserts CEFC’s dedication to “the post-2015 development goals”. The event was hailed by PRC state media. Not three months earlier, Ashe had attended a CEFC-organised “Luncheon talk” in Hong Kong, where he delivered a speech titled “The Post-2015 Development Agenda: Setting the Stage!”. 

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UNGA president John Ashe, bribed by CPPCC member Ng Lap Seng, with CEFC chairman Ye Jianming at a CEFC event in Hong Kong. April 2014. Source.

CEFC has also cultivated Ashe’s predecessor, Vuk Jeremić, former Serbian minister of foreign affairs. After he left office in 2013, the Chinese company hired him as a consultant. His cooperation with CEFC included “[d]iscussing […] China and the New Silk Road” with Patrick Ho, who lectured at Jeremić’s think tank on BRI and the UN Post-2015 Development Agenda. Jeremić also moderated a CEFC event with Wang Yiwei, the BRI-UN harmonisation advocate cited above, and a Silk and Road forum with DRC director Li Wei as keynote speaker. Serbian media claim CEFC has donated money to Jeremić’s think tank.

 

The Australian connection

Two consecutive UNGA presidents being bribed is hardly a coincidence. Moreover, the Ashe and Kutesa cases are personally linked: Kutesa’s wife was a board member at the Global Sustainable Development Foundation, an organisation used by Sheri Yan (严时玮), the “Queen of the Australia-China social scene”, to bribe Ashe “in exchange for official actions […] to benefit several Chinese businessmen”. The arrangement, which began before Ashe’s presidency, and continued through and after it, involved Ashe’s appointment as (remunerated) “honorary chairman” of the Foundation and its later reincarnation, the Global Sustainability Foundation. She pled guilty in 2016 and was handed a 20-month sentence.

In China, Yan’s Foundation enjoyed a disproportionate degree of access given its novelty and vacuity. Two months before Yan’s arrest, Chinese media reported, the Foundation bestowed an appointment to a former Shenzhen propaganda chief and counsellor to the State Council at no less a venue than the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse. Sheri Yan was there, accompanying not Ashe but his successor Kutesa. Yan has used her CCP connections to facilitate Australian access in China, and, allegedly, vice versa: an Australian media investigation claims she “introduced an alleged Chinese spy to her Australian contacts”.

Yan’s Ashe-pampering included arranging for the dignitary to attend a private conference in his official capacity, hosted by “a real-estate developer” whom the indictment names only as “C[o-]C[onspirator]-3”, who was not himself charged. “One of [CC-3]’s companies” paid Ashe a $200k fee for his attendance. Although it doesn’t name him, the indictment (p. 33 ff.) provides sufficient information to identify CC-3. As open, authoritative sources show, the date for the conference (17 Nov 2013), where Ashe “gave a speech”, points to the event held at a venue provided by Kingold Group (侨鑫集团), owned by Chinese-Australian billionaire Chau Chak Wing 周泽荣. Its official agenda, in Chinese and English, shows both Ashe and Chau spoke at the event; the official Kingold website also bilingually summarises his speech. The event was widely reported online by state media, in Chinese (CCP News) and English (China Daily). In short, if the quotes in the US indictment are correct, CC-3 is indeed Chau. 

Chau has sued local journalist John Garnaut for defamation over a piece that reached similar conclusions. Based on the reasoning above, however, Chau’s identification, which Garnaut claims to have confirmed with additional sources, can only be called solid journalism. Moreover, Andrew Hastie, chairman of the Australian parliament’s joint intelligence and security committee, recently confirmed he had learnt “from US authorities” that CC-3 is Chau, and that he had not been indicted for “reasons that are best not disclosed”. Chau, whose links to the United Front system are well-documented, has generously donated to both sides of Australian politics, as well as to various causes. 

As quoted in the US indictment, “CC-3” seemed to share the PRC’s interest in UN affairs: Ashe’s “sincere friend” in Guangdong “has the pleasure to offer you a permanent convention venue for the UN meetings on the sustainability and climate changes [sic] in the efforts to fully realize the Millennium Development Goals.”

 

New world a-comin’…

Despite charges of high-level bribery, the non-profit subsidiary of CEFC, China Energy Fund Committee, 中华能源基金委员会), still holds the title of special consultant to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC), whose current chair is Czech diplomat Marie Chatardová.

Czech President Zeman has supported Chatarodová both for the ECOSOC position and as possible minister for minister of foreign affairs in discussions on cabinet formation. Zeman, known for his pro-Beijing stance, has not dismissed his own honorary advisor, the ex-chairman of CEFC, Ye Jianming, who is now detained by the Chinese authorities at an unknown location. Similarly, the non-profit wing of CEFC remains in ECOSOC even as its leader Patrick Ho lingers in US custody on corruption charges. 

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ECOSOC chair Marie Chatardová with Czech President Miloš Zeman. New York, September 2017. Source.

Chatardová and other high-ranking UN officials had been declining to comment on the situation despite repeated requests from Inner City Press, a project specialised in investigative journalism within international institutions such as the UN or the World Bank. 

After repeated inquiries from both Inner City Press and Czech media, the UN finally released a statement on June 5 explaining that Chatardová could not have done anything to dismiss CEFC, as that power lies with member states. Further communication with the Czech mission at the UN clarified that the corruption charges against one of their associates have not even been discussed at ECOSOC. The only official body interested in the corruption at the top of the UN seems to be the FBI.

It is hard not to see a connection between the corruption cases in the United Nations and the rise of China’s “discursive power” in the organisation. As top UN officials get arrested for corruption by Chinese actors, the global body increasingly adopts Beijing’s narrative on a new “Globalisation 2.0”, epitomised by the Belt and Road Initiative. The strange happenings at the UN could indeed offer glimpses of this new world coming. 

[Edit (Nov 28): Fixed typo in the name of the NDRC. Thanks to Twitter user @LeniDiamond.]

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My name is Wu, James Wu: The United Front in the Czech Republic

[By Sinopsis and Jichang Lulu]

The Czech president’s bromance with CEFC has most saliently illustrated the intensity of CCP influence in the country’s high politics, teeming with links to the Party’s International Liaison Department (ILD). However, in the shadow of this high drama, the United Front (UF) system, famous for its Antipodean prowess, is also active in the Czech Republic, cultivating lower-level decision makers below the media radar. There are many foot soldiers in this more pedestrian side show, but one in particular stands out. His name is Wu. James Wu.

Czech president Miloš Zeman famously appointed CEFC chairman Ye Jianming 叶简明 as his ‘advisor’. Ostensibly a private businessman, Ye has been linked to CAIFC, a ‘friendly contact’ organization under the Central Military Commission’s Liaison Department. CEFC has since fallen out of favour, in what some interpret as a move to prevent international bribery allegations involving the company from reaching the Party itself (‘forsaking a soldier to save the general’ (舍率保帅) was the idiom chosen by Chinese writer Yu Jie 余杰). CEFC’s Czech creditors and CITIC, involved in its nationalization, are now fighting over its local assets. (Oblivious to the debacle, Zeman still officially keeps ‘friendly contact’ Ye at his advisory post, without clarifying what advice can possibly be sent from an undisclosed location where the Chairman is now held for internal Party investigation.) Apart from Zeman’s peculiar choice of advisors, the Party’s International Liaison Department (ILD) can also boast of friendly exchanges with the Czech political élite.

The ILD’s friendly Czech liaising with political elites have left the United Front with smaller fish to fry, but its role within the CCP’s foreign policy shouldn’t be underestimated. Discreet contacts with local organizations attempt to make ties and deals faits accomplis before the media notices, thus preempting what Beijing’s propaganda officials call the ‘China threat theory’ (中国威胁论). In decentralized administrations and free media environments, such local work can provide better results than the kind of high-level engagement seen in Cambodia, Chad or at Prague Castle. Top level politicians get voted out of power; grassroots links often tend to prove more durable.

A discussion of UF tactics in the Czech Republic  can hardly avoid acknowledging the common Stalinist heritage. After some reluctance, the CCP came to like the UF policy imposed on it (cogently expounded by Stalin in 1927). It greatly expanded it, turning it into a tool to co-opt not just the political parties typical of the Leninist concept, but also business groups, religions and secret societies. Meanwhile, Czechoslovakia also got its ‘national front’ as a gift from Uncle Joe, as an increasingly Communist-led coalition after the war, destined to eventually demote its non-Communist partners to an ancillary role. Despite Mao’s claims that the CCP had become independent of the Comintern by the mid-’30s, as late as 1947 he wrote to Stalin about his wish to “study the work of the national front” in Eastern Europe. In the Czech Republic and elsewhere in the region, Beijing’s UF work just brings back home a tactic that should sound vaguely familiar. The Xiist ‘Community of Common Destiny’ (命运共同体) Czech politicians recently signed up for at the ILD’s invitation could perhaps be better called a ‘Community of a resurgent Comintern’.

 

Making friends in Olomouc

Olomouc, a city of 100 000, is mainly known for its historical landmarks. Less well-known is the flourishing of a provincial version of the Czech-China druzhba that brings together local Czech politicians and Chinese businesspeople with colorful connections. In cooperation with the independent media outlet Hlídací pes, Sinopsis has mapped a web of local connections all going back to one man, James Wu (Wu Ruizhen 吴瑞珍). Strange things happen. Town squares in Prague get blocked from protestors. Provincial “embassies” of the region are being opened in China.

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Olomouc “embassy” to Fujian. Source: CECDC.

The first time Wu, originally from Fujian province, appeared in Czech media was in 2008, when he lost his goods to a fire at an Asian market in Prague. His name resurfaced again in 2016, when one of his “trade” organizations booked prominent public spaces during Xi Jinping’s visit in Prague, thus effectively blocking protesters from meeting the general secretary face to face. Wu founded the Czech-Chinese Trade Association in 2009, but left it two years later and established another organization, the China-Europe Cooperation and Development Center.

 

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A presentation on the Olomouc office in Fujian, by Roman Spáčil and James Wu.

 

The Office was run at the Czech end by an Olomouc businessman, Roman Spáčil. He was  introduced to Wu by a senator ) for SPO, a party based on personal loyalty to President Zeman. He was also behind the establishment of an Olomouc “embassy” in Fujian, an institution with the stated primary goal of strengthening the cultural and trade relations between the two provinces. All with the financial and political support of the local government.

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Roman Spáčil with James Wu. Ca. 2015. Source: CECDC.

Wu and Spáčil had big plans for the institution, but for no clear reason (all parties give different explanations) nothing came out of it and today there is only scarce information about what the Center is actually working on—if anything. The local government is unable to name any benefits of the above mentioned “embassy” or its current activities, three years after its establishment. According to Spáčil, it is Wu who is still responsible for the institution, now using the name Economic and Trade Coordination Centre of Olomouc Region. In his own words:  “It is all about making contacts. Also, there is no concrete project we could cooperate on.” At the same time, Wu claims to be the representative of Olomouc government in Fujian province in his own bio.

 

Good relations are the key

Wu’s main quality seems to be his ability to make contacts, as his former partner confirms:

“James has very good, even excellent long-term relations with top-level Fujian officials. I have started working on my other projects and we parted our ways,” says Spáčil. He also adds that Wu demanded as much access to Czech politicians as possible and to get pictures taken with them, which Spáčil rejected.

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James Wu gets his picture taken with former PM Petr Nečas. 2016.

Excellent relations with top-level Fujian officials are also mentioned in documents prepared for the founding of the “embassy”, quoted by Hlídací pes.

Wu’s bio on the website of the European Confederation of Fujian Associations (欧洲福建侨团联合总会) can shed light on his prominence in United Front activities. Out of more than twenty members of the institution, Wu boasts the longest CV (most of the others only have photos next to their names). Only Dong An 董安, the chairman of the German Fujian Association, comes close.

 

Navigating the diaspora

James Wu graduated from Jimei University (集美大学) in Xiamen with a degree in maritime navigation. After school he worked at a Hong Kong logistics company, Orient Overseas Container Lines (OOCL). In 1997 he moved to Prague and entered the luxury furniture and shoe businesses. Since 2006, he has been “participating in events” organized by the the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council (OCAO, known by its abridged Chinese name Qiaoban 侨办), first at its Shanghai branch and later at the national and other regional levels. The Qiaoban, which, like many state organs, exists at the national, province and municipality levels, coordinates Overseas Chinese affairs (Qiaowu 侨务) across the PRC government.

Qiaowu is a major domain of CCP policy, dealing both with PRC citizens living abroad and foreign nationals of Chinese ancestry. James To, the author of the most complete study of the subject, describes Qiaowu as “a massive operation involving incorporation and co-optation of the [Overseas Chinese] at every level of society, and managing their behaviour and perceptions through incentive or disincentive to suit the situation and structural circumstances that the CCP desires”. Qiaowu is also a major aspect of United Front work: the United Front Work Department (UFWD) has always had a central role in guiding diaspora policy, now undergoing further institutional consolidation. Under Xi’s ongoing restructuring of the Party-state, the Qiaoban will cease to exist as a government organ to be absorbed into the UFWD, a Party department.

 

United Front tour on the way to the Expo

In 2010, Wu led a delegation of Czech businesspeople to the Shanghai Expo. “Along the way” they visited several local offices of the Qiaoban, the UFWD and the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce in Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Fujian. Everywhere they “established friendly cooperation relations”.

The UF system’s official recognition of Wu’s role came soon afterwards, through the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). The CPPCC, a major UF body with committees at multiple levels of administration, has an “advisory” role to the government, and mostly consists of representatives of extra-Party groups vetted by the UFWD. Between 2012 and 2016, Wu was a member of the city-level committee of the CPPCC in Ningde 宁德, a municipality of 3 million in northern Fujian that includes his hometown.

His CPPCC role did not, however, stop at the city level. In 2013, he helped organize a visit to the Czech Republic by Zhang Changping 张昌平, then chairman of the Fujian province CPPCC. Wu’s bio claims he himself attended the Fujian CPPCC three times as a non-voting delegate, an important recognition. In an endorsement of his work in the Czech Republic, last year Yang Gensheng 杨根生, a vice chairman of the Fujian CPPCC, and the PRC ambassador attended the opening of the Czech-Fujian Association (捷克福建同乡会) presided by Wu.

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Fujian CPPCC vice chairman attends the opening of the Czech-Fujian Association presided by James Wu. Prague, May 2017. Source: Ningde Qiaoban.

Wu himself says that he is now mainly focused on projects in Fujian through the China-Europe Cooperation and Development Center, but at the same time willing to help with culture exchange and other activities beneficial to Czech-Chinese friendship.

 

An accomplished networker

Wu keeps getting awards, praise, invitations and appointments from the Chinese authorities. Last January, his bio claims, he received an award for extraordinary individual contribution at the Belt and Road International Talents Award Ceremony from the hands of former vice-ministers of commerce and foreign affairs. The same month, he was invited to a Chinese New Year Celebration for senior retired officials and PLA officers, co-organized by popular spirit brand Kweichou Moutai.

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Martial entertainment at a booze-themed VIP gala attended by James Wu. Beijing, January 2018. Source: Moutai.

Months ago, Wu appeared to jump across the division of labour among Sino-Czech influencers, rising from his United Front world to approach an orbit around CEFC. According to his bio, in February he became vice-chairman of the World Fujian Youth Organization. Another prominent Fujianese active in the Czech Republic, Chan Chauto (Chen Qiutu 陈秋途) was appointed chairman of the body. Chan was president of CEFC, a corporation plagued by corruption scandals at the UN and in Africa, until apparently falling from the CCP’s grace in recent months.
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CEFC president Chan Chauto, Fujian CPPCC chairman Zhang Changping and James Wu.  Xiamen, September 2016. Source.

Before Ye Jianming’s fall, Wu claimed plans to cooperate with CEFC and praised its “grand” projects. He was looking for “the right time and the right project”; they just never came. Now that the tide has turned against CEFC, he might choose his words more carefully. As the CEFC saga has taught us, the CCP’s highest awards are no guarantee of permanent favour. Chairman Ye, disappeared since last winter, could surely confirm that. If CEFC’s flamboyance had a role in its undoing, United Frontlings like James Wu might want to stick to their more discreet approach.