A new Comintern for the New Era: The CCP International Department from Bucharest to Reykjavík

[By Jichang Lulu and Martin Hála. Also published on Sinopsis and China Digital Times.]

The CCP’s efforts to cultivate foreign political parties and generate an appreciative consensus around Xi Jinping’s policies have now reached Iceland. During a visit by the CCP International Liaison Department (ILD, 中共中央对外联络部), Icelandic MPs had a chance to learn about “Xi Jinping Thought” and pose for pictures with a copy of Xi Jinping’s magnum opus The Governance of China.

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MPs including Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir (with Xi Jinping’s book), Smári McCarthy and Ari Trausti Guðmundsson meet ILD vice director Wang Yajun. Source: ILD.

Two weeks ago, an ILD delegation headed by Wang Yajun 王亚军, one of its vice directors, visited Iceland, as part of a three-country tour that also visited Nepal and Cyprus. The following account of the meeting appeared on 2 August on the ILD’s official website:

At the invitation of Iceland’s foreign ministry, ILD vice-chair Wang Yajun led a delegation to visit Iceland between 31 July and 2 August, meeting with the chairman of the Independence Party [(Sjálfstæðisflokkur)] and minister of finance and economic affairs, Bjarni] Benediktsson, former president [Ólafur Ragnar] Grímsson, [and] the chair of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, [Áslaug Arna] Sigurbjörnsdóttir, deepening exchanges with the various main political parties, and promoting and introducing to persons from various sectors of society Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era and the situation of the Chinese side’s implementation of the spirit of the 19th Congress [of the Communist Party].

Xi Jinping Thought or weather talk

While the ILD was quick to propagandise the success of the trip, no public announcement of it was made in Iceland. News about the visit spread among ‘China watchers’ on social media after a few days, originating with the Party Watch Initiative’s Weekly Report, which regularly covers the activities of the ILD and other Party departments.

News eventually reached the Icelandic press. Only after Icelandic journalists had started to work on coverage of the visit did an announcement emerge on the website of the Icelandic Cabinet, a full week after the ILD’s own account.

Representatives of the Communist Party of China, CPC, visited Iceland a few days ago and requested a meeting with Bjarni Benediktsson, the Minister for Finance and Economic Affairs. During the meeting, the CPC representatives explained the party’s ideas for increased cooperation with other countries.

At the meeting, the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs reviewed the state of the Icelandic economy, developments since the 2008 economic crisis and a comparison with other OECD countries.

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Iceland’s minister for finance and economic affairs Bjarni Benediktsson with ILD vice director Wang Yajun. Source: Stjórnarráð Íslands.

DV then reported on the visit, with quotes from participating MPs. Their recollection of the “exchanges” with the CCP cadres differed from the ILD’s official account. None of the parliamentarians mentioned Xi Jinping Thought or the spirit of the 19th Congress. Smári McCarthy of the Pirate Party (Píratar) talked of a “diplomatic reception” with “much talk about the weather”.

Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir, secretary of the Independence Party and chair of the Althing’s foreign affairs committee, told DV that she “spoke openly” to the ILD officials about “the importance of human rights in Iceland’s foreign policy”. The answer she recalls, with the ‘out-of-poverty’ trope, will be familiar to our readers. The CCP’s long-time efforts to dilute the concept of human rights follow the age-old ‘look, puppies!’ recipe: economic growth exists, the people benefit, and any human rights abuses are irrelevant. At the UN Human Rights Council, of which Iceland is now a member, the PRC has garnered the support of governments from Eritrea to Venezuela to pass resolutions advocating the concept of “human rights with Chinese characteristics” Áslaug was likely told about. If anything, Áslaug’s satisfaction that she raised human rights with the ILD visitors only serves to validate the CCP’s claim to hold a ‘dialogue’ where the voice of rights abusers drowns that of the victims.

Unusually for someone concerned with human rights, Áslaug Arna chose to pose for a picture with writings by the head of a human rights-abusing regime. Under Xi Jinping’s apartheid-like security crackdown in Xinjiang, possibly over a million Uyghurs are interned in ‘reeducation’ camps.

Áslaug did not reply to a request for comment.

The finance ministry told Kvennablaðið that human rights were not discussed in Bjarni’s meeting with the ILD. The conversation was about Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, among other topics.

Roads of influence

On the same day that news about the ILD meeting reached the Icelandic public, Björn Bjarnason, a journalist and Independence Party politician who was a minister under six cabinets, published an op-ed on China in Morgunblaðið. Titled “Chinese pressure, near and far”, the article calls on Iceland to maintain its indepndence in the face of pressures it can expect once it assumes the Arctic Council chairmanship next year.

Björn’s piece notes China’s interest in becoming a ‘polar great power’ (极地强国), officially proclaimed at Xi Jinping’s 2014 speech in Hobart. He discusses the case of Greenland, where certain aspects of the PRC’s interests, such as CCCC’s possible involvement in airport development and General Nice (俊安集团)’s attempt to buy a derelict naval base, have led to Danish and American concerns. In Iceland, he points to the long-delayed Kárhóll Chinese-Icelandic Aurora Observatory project, predicting its eventual opening will attract international attention as a sign of China’s assertiveness in the Arctic. Kárhóll will give China “an important foothold” in Iceland.

Björn places the PRC’s Arctic interests within the context of a push for global influence, and mentions the newly introduced anti-interference legislation in Australia.

The CCP’s influence activities in Australia are not, in fact, disjoint from the ILD’s Reykjavík lesson in Xi Jinping Thought. A central role in political influence operations is being played by the United Front (UF) system. A Leninist creation originally imposed on the CCP in the early 1920s, this set of cooptation tactics eventually developed into a major institutionalised area of the PRC political system. Under Xi Jinping, it has gone global. United Front activities are being studied in an increasing number of locations. To mention just three: Hamilton and Joske’s 2017 parliamentary submission provides an overview of United Front groups in Australia; Anne-Marie Brady’s Magic Weapons proposes an influence ‘template’ illustrated in the New Zealand case; Sinopsis and Jichang Lulu’s ongoing collaboration on the CCP’s influence activities in Central-Eastern Europe has described a piece of the Czech United Front puzzle.

The United Front is not, however, the only avenue for Xi’s extension of the CCP’s domestic and diasporic control tactics to the global domain. The Propaganda system seeks to obtain global ‘discourse power’ through tactics that range from attempted extraterritorial censorship to overt and covert propaganda outlets. (An Icelandic version of the latter once attracted some attention.)

From Stalin to Xi

The ILD is another tool of foreign influence. Like other core areas of the political system, the ILD traces its origins to the Soviet management of the world Communist movement. One or more departments governing relations with fellow Communist parties (in power or not) are a feature of Leninist systems. The ILD is similar in name to a secretive Comintern intelligence agency (Отдел международных связей). Post-Comintern, its Soviet analogue was Stalin’s International Department (Международный отдел). The predecessors of the Chinese ILD were Party sections that conducted relations with the Comintern, and later an office whose functions included “researching the revolutionary potential” of Eastern countries and the diaspora. The Department was formally established in 1951. The Sino-Soviet split made it focus on aggressively countering the USSR, supporting splinter groups against orthodox pro-Soviet parties. After the Cultural Revolution, it turned to restoring relations with an expanding circle of Communist and, since the mid-1980s, non-Communist parties. As the DV piece remembers, Geng Biao 耿飚, once an envoy to Scandinavia, visited Iceland in 1979 as vice premier, months after leaving his post as head of the ILD.)

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Vísir, 8 June 1979, one day before the end of Geng Biao’s visit. Source: Tímarit.

True to its nearly centenary history, the modern ILD still maintains especially close relations with Communist parties, in particular those in power. The current ILD chief, Song Tao, is often involved in high-level contacts with North Korea. While contacts with mainstream politicians are increasingly frequent, the ILD continues to nurture relations with even insignificant foreign Communist parties, such as the Communist Party of Australia (CPA), whose vice president was invited to Karl Marx’s 200th birthday party in Shenzhen, organised by the ILD.

Contrary to the impression some Icelandic MPs seem to have received, the ILD’s functions go beyond weather talk. Shambaugh’s classic study of the ILD lists among its tasks “collecting current intelligence“ on the politics and societies of foreign countries. Brady lists the ILD among the main Party-state organisations recruiting intelligence agents abroad. Gitter and Bowie note the role of the ILD and its front groups in efforts to “constrain” Taiwan’s diplomacy. A candid view of the ILD’s intelligence role was provided in the Czech intelligence service BIS’s 2015 annual report:

In 2015, the dominant Chinese intelligence force in the Czech Republic was military intelligence, whose activities supplemented the efforts of a specific Chinese intelligence organisation, the International Liaison Department of the Chinese Communist Party. This is an agency under the Central Committee of the CCP, whose remit includes, besides foreign relations, intelligence activities.

This assessment has not deterred many Czech politicians from making the ILD their main point of contact during visits to the PRC.

The rise of the New Comintern

Xi’s global expansion of the CCP’s toolkit is accelerating the ILD’s embrace of foreign ‘bourgeois’ parties. However, not everyone wants to play along; in the West, each ‘friendly’ contact achieved with the political mainstream, like the Reykjavík meeting, is still significant. In Western Europe, post-Communist and other leftist parties are still the ILD’s best friends. Last July, ILD director Song Tao and vice director Qian Hongshan 钱洪山 received a delegation from the Party of the European Left, led by Gregor Gysi of Die Linke who heaped praise on the CCP as a model for European left-wing parties to learn from.

In Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), managed by the same ILD bureau as the post-Soviet space, old Communist ties still survive to some extent and provide a basis for the rightward growth of ‘friendly contacts’. The ILD’s favourite interlocutor in the Czech Republic is the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM, Komunistická strana Čech a Moravy). Last year, the Party’s current Chairman, Vojtěch Filip, listed as an agent under the cover name “Falmer” in Communist-era Secret Police (StB) files, even posed for a picture with ILD head Song Tao 宋涛 for a promotional calendar distributed by the PRC embassy in Prague that highlighted major achievements in the newfound Sino-Czech Friendship.

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Czech Communist leader Vojtěch Filip (“Falmer”) with ILD head Song Tao in 2016. Source: PRC Embassy in Prague

Like in Iceland, the ILD’s visits to the Czech Republic are sometimes only reluctantly publicised. In November 2016, ILD sent their “assistant minister” (部长助理) Li Jun 李军 to the annual China Investment Forum in Prague, after PM Li Keqiang abruptly cancelled his visit over the growth of local anti-CCP sentiment that followed a series of embarrassing incidents. His sudden appearance was not publicly announced, and even the event organisers were at loss as to his status, apparently not figuring out in the protocol that he was now the most senior Chinese visitor, far above the Chinese ambassador.

Similarly, when Jan Hamáček of the Social Democratic Party (ČSSD), who as Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies is the fourth highest constitutional figure, attended the ILD-organised “Meeting of Political Parties from China and CEE” (中国—中东欧政党对话会) in Bucharest the following year, there was no public record of him even leaving the country. Only after Sinopsis broke the story did sketchy details emerge.

The Bucharest gathering was also interesting in other respects. It was already the second such meeting bringing together representatives from various CEE political parties and ILD cadres. The first one took place in Budapest, Hungary, a year earlier. The Bucharest meeting was attended, on the Chinese side, by Liu Yunshan 刘云山, at that point the 5th-ranking CCP Politburo Standing Committee member in charge of ideology. (He has since been sidelined.) On the CEE side, there was a mixture of parties ranging from the usual (post-)Communist suspects to more opportunistic friends, such as the Polish People’s Party (PSL, Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe).

All hail humankind‘s shared New Era

Neither “16+1” meeting of political parties was much publicised. They were, in fact, rehearsals for the big-time event, the “World Political Parties Dialogue” held by the ILD in Beijing in December 2017 under a somewhat clumsy title: Dialogue with World Political Parties High-Level Meeting (中国共产党与世界政党高层对话会). This was, in essence, an ILD coming-out party, showing its power to convene representatives of, supposedly, 300 political parties from 120 countries (a full list was never made public). A previously secretive organization came out into the limelight.

The purpose of the meeting was to reach nothing less than a consensus on the future of humankind. That task apparently went smoothly, with a healthy dose of lecturing on the spirit the 19th Congress. Participants got copies of Xi Jinping’s book. The new consensus for the future of mankind was then enshrined in the “Beijing Initiative (北京倡议)”. It “applauds” Xi‘s “full and rigorous governance” of the Party, improving its “ability to govern and lead” and generate “historic achievements” and other desirable effects. Attendees called for “win-win cooperation” before expressing their “heartfelt appreciation” for the ILD.

Two Antipodean visitors to the Dialogue may provide a taste of humankind’s brave new Shared Future. From New Zealand Labour Party president Nigel Haworth, noted for his praise of Xi Jinping’s “wise leadership”, spoke highly of Xi’s “very brave step” as he tries to “lead the world”. Former Australian Labor politician Bob Carr, who now heads a CCP-‘optimistic’ institution set up with UF-linked donations, was also there.

carr0.png

Bob Carr with then ILD assistant director Wang Yajun on the sidelines of the CPC “dialogue”, 2 Dec 2017. Source: ILD.

The “summit” illustrated the ILD’s innovative concept of “friendly contacts” without ideological constraints. Unlike its Soviet and Maoist predecessors, the facelifted ILD will not just make friends with Communist and revolutionary parties. In the “New Era”, it will work with whoever implicitly recognises the CCP’s role in a “Community of Shared Future for Humankind”, without necessarily understanding what that actually means. Cooptation tactics become truly universal, with the ILD as a central hinge.

Beyond intelligence gathering and ‘weather talk’, the ILD plays a role in the CCP’s efforts to shape global discourse and build an international consensus endorsing its authoritarian political system. Foreign political parties, from Bucharest to Reykjavík, aren’t its only targets. As the next piece in this series will show, the ILD’s purview within the Xiist discourse-management enterprise extends well beyond professional politics. The propaganda goods Iceland’s MPs delivered to the ILD fall, however, within a newly-normal genre: what Gitter calls “push[ing] China’s vision of the future” with politicians both in power and opposition, building up “reserves of foreign influencers” able to ensure long-term CCP-friendly policies.

All the world’s a stage

After news of the ILD visit became known, Björn Bjarnason wrote a post on his blog, intended as a “supplement” to his Morgunblaðið article on Chinese “pressure”. Comparing the ILD’s official account of the meeting to the explanations by Icelandic participants, Björn notes that the latter might not have been aware that they were “actually taking part in a scene staged on behalf of the Communist Party”. What they saw as a “courtesy visit where they talked about the weather” was presented in China as “promoting Xi Jinping Thought to Iceland’s political parties”.

Plays so staged that foreign and local audiences may perceive them differently are the Party’s trademark. For years, the CCP has sustained such differential messaging in the Arctic, exploiting a general lack of familiarity with China and its political system. If Iceland and other countries in the region intend to preserve their interests in asymmetric relations with China, their political, business and scientific élites may wish to understand their counterparts better. As long as only the CCP knows what’s going on, ‘win-win cooperation’ will mean it wins twice.

[Thanks to Geoff Wade and Anne-Marie Brady]

 

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leading Chinese scholar discusses Greenland’s independence

My latest on China and Greenland, written for China Brief, discusses the two major mining projects with (or awaiting) Chinese investment and the rather peculiarly “launched” plans to set up a satellite ground station near Nuuk, revealed last year on this blog. The Brief piece also mentions, I believe as the first English-language source to do so, a mid-2017 paper with Guo Peiqing 郭培清, a well-known scholar of polar politics at the Ocean University of China (中国海洋大学), as lead author, on the geopolitics of Greenland’s independence. Guo’s paper openly talks about the “inevitability” (必然性) of Greenland’s independence as seen by Denmark, analyses its significance for the interests of Denmark, the EU, South Korea and the US (stressing the latter’s military presence), describes various economical and social challenges faced by Greenland, and concludes with the necessity of help from the “international community”. The article carefully avoids discussing China’s own interests. As I mention in the piece, Guo’s past statements, and Greenland’s importance within China’s Arctic strategy, warrant a reading of the piece as advocating China’s involvement in such international cooperation with a nascent Greenlandic state.

This would be entirely unremarkable, were it not for the extreme caution Chinese officials and academics exert, at least in public, on the delicate issue of Greenland’s independence. Although an independent Greenland with China as a major economic partner would be geopolitically advantageous to the PRC, any sign of support would generate unwelcome debate in Greenland, potentially hurt relations with Denmark, and trigger the feared “China threat theory” (中国威胁论, a propaganda term used to refer to discussion of negative aspects of PRC influence abroad). In fact, Greenland’s authorities appear interested in ‘talking up’ the relationship with China, which doesn’t quite reciprocate. The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs once publicly reminded Greenland it “should follow the foreign policy upheld by Denmark”, after a minister had been forced to cancel a planned visit to Taiwan on a trade mission. When a high-level delegation led by Greenland’s premier Kim Kielsen visited China right after the 19th Party Congress, it was not invited by a state organ, but by the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs (中国人民外交学会), a state-affiliated think tank; Kielsen was received by a foreign-affairs vice-minister, Wang Chao 王超, the same protocol accorded to a Danish parliamentary delegation a few days later. The Greenlandic government, however, called the visit “official“. Greenland’s main interlocutors are, in fact, the Ministry of Land and Resources and its subordinate the State Oceanic Administration (responsible for Arctic affairs).

Protocol aside, Greenland’s apparent interest in ‘upgrading’ its relationship with China stems from its need for foreign investment, specifically in mining projects. Although (largely state-driven) Chinese interest in Greenland’s minerals is real, as documented on this blog, and is often related to national resource-acquisition strategies, a Chinese mining boom capable of powering Greenland’s economic independence has failed to materialise. As I say in the Brief piece, talks with Chinese SOEs on infrastructure development, including controversial airport projects, have so far not resulted in any announcements of Chinese interest, something probably related to the financial uncertainty that surrounds these plans. China is still of minor importance for a crucial industry, tourism, although there is clear growth potential. China is, on the other hand, a major destination for Greenland’s only major export, seafood (most of it reexported through Denmark; based on a recent estimate of yearly seafood exports to China and official export statistics for 2016, China’s share of seafood exports could be around 40%).

Besides the actual level of trade and investment, the perception of increasing Chinese interest can help Greenland’s position in negotiations with Denmark, in such aspects as having a greater say in, e.g., defining the Kingdom’s Arctic policies. The obvious answer to any Danish concerns about ‘sensitive’ Chinese investments and other activities in Greenland is that China is simply filling a vacuum left by other actors. Chinese activities in Greenland are mostly state-driven; it’s hard to imagine how other actors could compete for economic or other influence without clear state policies. The Brief piece mentions, in particular, the extent of MLR-led efforts to identify and study mining projects of interest and promote them to Chinese companies.

The modest scale of the economic relationship and the potential pitfalls of any overt support for independence will likely continue to define China’s cautious approach, but the publication of Guo’s paper could be a sign of more open discussion of the issue in academic and policy circles.

The paper is also a window into how knowledge is made: just like much ‘Arctic studies’ literature continues to rely on second and third-hand sources and blissfully ignore Chinese-language materials, Guo’s article contains a telling mistake. The paper gives “April 2017” as the date for the Danish rejection of General Nice’s plans to buy the abandoned Grønnedal base. In fact, the events took place before the summer of 2016, and were widely reported in Danish and English in December that year (I discussed them in January 2017). Guo’s source is a Chinese-language reporting based on a Reuters story that arrived much later.

I will discuss these and other aspects of the China-Greenland relationship in a forthcoming report.

The Nones of March

The CCP Central Committee has ‘proposed’ to remove presidential term limits from the constitution of the PRC, providing the temporal unboundedness other Xiist endeavours demand. The following are to be constitutionally enshrined: Xiism as a doctrine (“Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” (习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想)); “reform”, as part of a long process in the past, after “revolution” and “construction”; the “Rejuvenation/Revitalisation/Renewal of the Chinese Nation” (minzu); perhaps most relevantly to this blog, United Front work. (The changes can be most conveniently read, in Chinese and English translation, on NPC Observer.)

Imperial analogies are obvious, and are keeping censors busy. As usual in such cases, censorship is being tracked by the China Digital Times (CDT, 中国数字时代), who maintain a Sensitive Word Database (敏感词库). Any number of terms alluding to the Imperial ascent have been blocked; many refer to the last person to assume the title of Emperor, Yuan Shikai 袁世凯. Less obviously, the Latin letter n was also briefly blocked for some users on February 25, as Sandra Saverdia, senior Chinese editor at CDT, first reported on a microblogging site. As I speculated there, this could refer to n as an integer variable, with n ≥ 2. Victor Mair devoted an entire post to the event (“The letter * has bee* ba**ed in Chi*a“). Referencing Mark Hansell (“The Sino-Alphabet: The Assimilation of Roman Letters into the Chinese Writing System“), Mair notes that “the Roman alphabet is part of the Chinese writing system”, so that letters have the same right to being censored as Chinese characters. Here’s how he explains the inequality:

 

This is probably out of fear on the part of the government that “N” = “n terms in office”, where possibly n > 2; as in “liánrèn n jiè 连任n届” (“n successive terms in office”), which would be forbidden anyway because of the liánrèn 连任 (“continue in office”) part.

 

Mair’s comments on n reached all manner of media (The Garudian, the Gray Lady, Newsweek, peculiar Millennial haunt 9GAG, CNN (who, regrettably, called the inequality an “equation”), the Riga-based Meduza…). The ban was short-lived, and it only affected some users; other than Saverdia and CDT, it was independently reported by Douban users later that day.

The letter ban is of anecdotal significance, but it shows the demands put on the censorship system by the discontent and mockery the ‘proposal’ generated. As for the more substantive aspects of Xi’s term-unboundedness and the Amendment, little needs to be said, as a great many have commented. From The Onion (洋葱报)’s “American Voices” Panel of Experts

 

It’s so great that Xi Jinping has found something he wants to do for the rest of his life.

 

to a Voice from the Land of Heart’s Desire (NZ, kāmadhātu, 欲界):

 

Should President Xi continue onto a third term, the constitutional change will lessen the usual personal, institutional and policy uncertainty that accompanies a leadership succession every 10 years in China. This may be desirable given that China has been undergoing massive long-term economic and military restructuring and embarked on the Belt and Road initiative. Stability at the top, to some extent, may enable better chances of successful policy outcomes.

(Dr Xiang Gao of the Eastern Institute of Technology, Auckland, channelled by an outlet of the Asia New Zealand Foundation.)

As of press time, it’s unclear if such views on the desirability of perpetual dictatorship are also common among New Zealand’s policymakers; an earlier post of mine might help inform an informed guess.

 

More cogently, Geremie Barmé points to the use of refloated imperial imagery by both Mao and Xi (“The Real Man of the Dog Year“). Introducing a piece by Hong Kong commentator Lee Yee 李怡, Barmé has this to say on the personality cult:

 

Despite the fitful de-Maoification of the late 1970s and early 1980s China as a one-party state has never really bid farewell to the cult of personality. The grand architect of the country’s successful economic, and failed political, reforms, Deng Xiaoping, was deified both during and after his rule. The media adulation showered on him certainly never reached the absurd heights of the Mao cult, but for analysts and commentators to have claimed at the time — or thereafter — that by instituting a form of collective leadership he and his fellow gerontocrats rid the country of the cult of the leader is ridiculous. Ever since the rejection of substantive political reform in China, the reappearance of the authoritarian personality at the apex of the party-state hierarchy has been a dark possibility. Given the decade of charismatic deficit under Hu Jintao, both Xi Jinping and Bo Xilai promised lineage, competence and personal domination. The forty-year arc of return is long but its workings would now appear to be irresistible.

 

Meanwhile, China Radio International (CRI), this blog’s favourite exoprop organ, ran an interview with Hubei NPC delegate Zhou Hongyu 周洪宇, who called for “severe punishment” for those who mock or “defile” (亵渎) Red Songs, such as The East is Red (东方红), the Yellow River Cantata (黄河大合唱) and the Internationale. He was surely referring to recent stories about a TV talent show from a couple of years ago (perfectly apolitical, and unfunny) and a number of online videos which were probably funnier but seem to have been deleted. In a way, Xi’s impending enthronement is itself a defilement of the Internationale, or at least makes it harder to sing 不靠神仙皇帝 (ni Dieu, ni César, ni Tribun) with a straight face.

Even a Finnegans Wake bot had something timely to say:

 

 

Fengyang 凤阳 was the birthplace of Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋, the founder of Ming dynasty.

 

All this late-winter Imperial Resurgence brings to mind another title the Ministry of Truth might not like: the one Julius Caesar was accorded approximately 2061 years ago, in January or February.

The exact wording occurs in different variants. Dict[ator] perpetuo (‘dictator in perpetuity’) is probably the original form, as it was used on coins at the time (Grueber, I, p. 545ff.)

 

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CAESAR˙DICT PERPETVO. Denarius, 44 BC. Source: ANTIQVA.ORG.

 

Livy (Per. 116) has dictator in perpetuum. Dictator perpetuus (‘perpetual dictator’) occurs later, in Florus (Epit. 2.13.90); and there’s also perpetua dictatura (‘perpetual dictatorship’) in Suetonius (Iul., 76). Cicero (Phil. 2.87) should have precedence as a contemporary, but he has the noun phrase in the dative (dictatori perpetuo), which is compatible with both dictator perpetuo and dictator perpetuus.

Caesar wasn’t able to enjoy his perpetual title for more than a few weeks, as he didn’t make it past the 15th (the Ides) of March. Quite a bit of the “uncertainty” ensued that the NZ expert above thinks “desirable” perpetual dictatorship can prevent; as it tends to happen when personalised rule meets Personal death, but some people never learn.

 

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Seiner regierung im V. jar und in LVI. seines alters ward er mit [s]chendtlichen mordt unuersehenlich [CORRECTION: I first mistranscribed unuerschenlich; see comment by David Marjanović] umbracht. (‘In the 5th year of his rule, the 56th of his age, he was unexpectedly killed in a shameful murder.’ The final –n in the strong dative schendtlichen could be due to Dutch or Low German influence.) Engraving published by Ahasuerus van Londerseel ca. 1587-1635, British Museum.

 

The National People’s Congress opens a.d. III Non. Mar. (two days before the Nones of March, i.e. ten before the Ides).

Antipodica 2: Chen Yonglin: Australia as China’s backyard

This is the final post of a triple on CCP influence in Australia and New Zealand. The first two pieces introduce former PRC diplomat Chen Yonglin’s 2016 China in Perspective piece on Australia as “China’s backyard”, presented for the first time in English.

0. Leading from the back end
1. The cis-Tasman yard
2. Chen Yonglin: Australia as China’s backyard

Chen Yonglin 陈用林 is a former consular official who defected to Australia in 2005 and aired a series of claims about persecution of dissidents and spying on Australian soil. A parliamentary inquiry ensued; the documents show how perfunctorily he was treated, initially being denied political asylum, then refused police protection and even advised by immigration officials to go back to his consulate.

In 2016, Chen wrote a piece for China in perspective (纵览中国), an online publication under the Princeton China Initiative. The article, titled “Australia is in the process of becoming China’s backyard” (澳大利亚正在沦为中国的后院), discusses more recent developments, such as the lease of the Darwin port. Although it might not be possible to verify some of his claims based on open sources, Chen’s insights as a former diplomat make his thoughts worth reading, as they are relevant to the ongoing debate on the extent of CCP influence in Australia.

The original piece in Chinese is available on the website of China in perspective. I particularly liked the epithet 舔屎族 (coprolictae).

An English translation is given below, revised by the author. I’m grateful to the author and translator for their permission to reproduce the article. Needless to say, it reflects the author’s views, rather than mine.

 

Australia is in the Process of Becoming China’s Backyard

Chen Yonglin

The original Chinese-language version of this article appeared under the title “陈用林:澳大利亚正在沦为中国的后院” in China in Perspective 纵览中国, dated 31 August 2016.

Not long ago I was chatting with some friends about how the Chinese New Year Parade organised by the City of Sydney in 2015 was the 12th such annual parade, and how with Chinese government support in terms of people and funding, the event has become larger and more lively every year. It was also noted that at that time the PRC Consulate General in Sydney had arranged for some ethnic Chinese who were close to the Communist Party of China (CPC) to sign a petition rejecting the City of Sydney’s proposal to localize the procession, under the name of the “Lunar New Year Procession”. In fact the CPC’s all-out infiltration of Australia started in that year of 2004. Over these 12 years we have seen a process by which Australia has gradually and increasingly been turned into China’s backyard.

When Fu Ying was the PRC ambassador to Australia, she repeatedly said to Australian government officials and media that China wants Australia to become a stable and reliable resources and energy supplier. Australia’s only concern at that time was that China would stop buying Australia’s resources.

In mainstream Australian society, the Northern Territory Government has recently been counting its money. The money comes from leasing the operating rights over the port of Darwin to a Chinese company for 99 years! The port of Darwin is the most important Australian military base for countering attacks from the north. Did the Northern Territory Government have the right to represent Australia in submissively giving the port to China? The Northern Territory Government received a little money but the national security interests of Australia were seriously harmed. Most Westerners, and particularly Australians, do not understand the significance of the 99 years. However, the ethnic Chinese close to the CPC and the United Front people will certainly feel a sense of revenge as we clearly remember that 99 years was the length of lease over Hong Kong’s Kowloon and New Territories which Britain demanded from China though it could be normal practice in leasing land in the West.

The media has also recently revealed a list of 30 Chinese persons who have made political donations in Australia. The most prominent are Chau Chak Wing of the Kingold group (the proprietor of the pro-CPC newspaper Australian New Express Daily) and Huang Xiangmo of the Yuhu Group (the Chairman of the Australian Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China). Many of these donors are members of the Australian Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China. Studies show that formerly some prominent political figures such as the former NSW premier Bob Carr were looked upon very kindly by the CPC, and seen as “tomorrow’s star”. He then became Foreign Minister in the Gillard Government and today he is pretty well-off. There is also the former NSW Treasurer Eric Roozendaal who has become the deputy chairman of the Yuhu Group responsible for strategic planning. With the support of funding from the Chinese government, Chinese companies are buying huge swathes of Australian farms and large numbers of livestock. Australians are also aghast wondering how it is that Chinese persons have purchased all the property along George Street in Sydney.

Today, Australia not only provides China with cheap resources and energy but also with the raw material for manufacturing nuclear weapons, uranium. According to high-level sources, on several occasions, Australian uranium nominally exported to India actually went to China. The Australian government, even after investigating the facts, did not take any measures to restrict this commercial activity which threatened the country’s security. I consider that China has already used Australian uranium to manufacture nuclear weapons.

Three feet of ice does not form in a day

In the middle of August 2004, the 10th meeting of China’s envoys based abroad was held in Beijing. In his speech, the CPC party secretary Hu Jintao put forward the instruction that Australia should be included in the category of China’s “overall periphery”. In February 2005, in order to implement the spirit of the envoys’ meeting, Zhou Wenzhong 周文重, a vice minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs convened a meeting in Canberra of senior officials at the PRC embassies in Australia and New Zealand and high level foreign ministry staff. I participated together with Consul-General Qiu Shaofang 邱少芳. The contents of the meeting I have already detailed in an interview by the RFA in June 2005, under the title ‘RFA Interviews Chen Yonglin (Part 2): The US-Australia Alliance is Loosening”. Unfortunately, apart from a small number of Western scholars, few people have paid this much attention. Essentially, in accordance with their fixed strategic plans, the Communist Party of China had begun a structured effort to infiltrate Australia in a systematic way.

In looking at Australia, the Chinese government saw only one thing: Australia is rich in high-grade mineral and energy resources. It will serve as an inexhaustible supply base for China over the next 20 years of development, and it will provide an overall logistical safeguard for China’s economic development.

Australia was also the earliest experimental base for the Chinese Communists in expanding their soft power abroad because Australia has advantages in four respects: 1. Geopolitical advantage. It is the nearest major Western democratic polity to China with a stable political environment, relatively weak national power and is the weak link in the western camp. 2. Advantage in terms of Chinese migrants from the PRC. After 1989, over 40,000 Chinese students in Australia obtained residence rights. Adding their immediate relatives, more than 100,000 Chinese persons became Australians. Naturally these people have intimate and diverse links with the PRC, have often been ideologically trained, and a majority have a strong sense of Chinese chauvinism. It is thus that, through their fear of Chinese political power and gangsters, they can be easily coerced. 3. The advantage of multicultural policies. Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act allows minorities to assert a certain confidence. Under the pompous claim of promoting Chinese national culture, they often engage in ideological propaganda. 4. There is no Foreign Agents Registration Act. The US Foreign Agents Registration Act is a trump card in opposing infiltration by foreigners. Australia has no such tool.

China’s political infiltration of Australia involves three spheres: 1. Chinese community organisations; 2. Student and scholar associations; and 3. The Confucius Institute system.

Working with Chinese community organisations is the most important task. The CPC uses Chinese community organisations which are pro-Communist as their base, and from there they radiate into society. “Blood is thicker than water” and ethnic affiliation can be used to influence people. As long as people have Chinese faces, the CPC feels that they have an opportunity to influence and utilise them. Today in Australia, regardless of whether we speak of the Chinese community, political circles, commercial groups, scholarly bodies, literary and arts organisations, news organisations, or even public schools, there will be Chinese agents 代理人 within. The CPC agents are everywhere, with their fear-inducing actions, their lies, their corruption and their cold-blooded ways. Australia’s key values have already begun to be attacked and corroded. For example, in June 2015, the Western Australian Senator Dio Wang, when being interviewed by the Australian Financial Review, spoke in defence of the CPC over the massacre in Tiananmen in 1989.

The key pro-Communist Chinese organisation in Australia is the Australian Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China (ACPPRC), which has a pyramid structure with control at every level. The ACPPRC is under the leadership of the China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful National Reunification, which in turn is an official organ under the leadership of the CPC Central Committee’s United Front Work Department. The chairman of the China Council is Yu Zhengsheng 俞正声 who is both a member of the CPC Politburo Standing Committee and chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Key members of the Australian Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China have been directly appointed as “Non-Voting Members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference”. For example William Chiu 邱维廉, a former chairman of ACPPRC, was appointed as a Non-Voting Member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, but has since been replaced by the ACPPRC executive vice president Victor Tian 田飞. The Australian Council of Chinese Organizations 华人团体协会 was originally set up to strengthen control over the Australian Chinese community, aid infiltration of mainstream society and to oppose the overall sanctions imposed by western countries as a result of the June 4 massacre. However, with the grand creation of the ACPPRC, the Australian Council of Chinese Organizations was hollowed out, and its president Dr Tony C. M. Goh 吴昌茂 had to make great efforts to revive his reputation.

The Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) is an organisation which is directly controlled by the CPC through the embassy in Canberra. In order to make control easier, in addition to establishing CSSA bodies in each university, a national Australian Chinese Students and Scholars Association has been created, below which are the NSW CSSA, the Australian Capital CSSA and so on, in a pyramid hierarchy. All are directed by the Education Office of the Chinese Embassy in Canberra and the Education Section of the PRC Consulate General in Sydney, and the appointment and election of CSSA leaders is all carried out under the management of the embassy or Consulate General. On the NSW CSSA website, one can read of the nature of the organisation: “The NSW CSSA was initiated by Consul Bai Gang of the Education Section of the PRC Consulate General in Sydney…”

In 2008, Bai Gang 白刚 the Education Consul of the PRC Consulate General in Sydney also established the Australian Chinese Professionals Association 澳大利亚华人专业人士协会. This association was specifically established for the Chinese students who stayed in Australia after graduation, so as to allow them to continue to ‘make a contribution to the motherland.”

Originally, the Confucius Institute system was established to compete with the Taiwan Chinese-language education materials presented in full-form traditional characters. However, subsequently it was used to recruit agents and establish a pro-Communist network, and it became a major tool for infiltrating mainstream society. Unfortunately, the Australian governments at both the Federal and state levels saw Chinese assistance in providing Chinese language training assistance as a “free lunch” without any conditions. In particular, as the Confucius Classrooms have been widely expanded, the CPC ideological element of education has been further introduced. For China, this means “achieving major aims with a small amount of funds.” This small amount of financial support will result in Australia losing its next generations. The short-sightedness of Australian politicians forms a sharp contrast with the long-term strategies of the Communist Party of China.

There is another secret aspect of the CPC’s overseas deployments. I can’t count the number of people who have expressed scepticism about my claim in 2005 that the CPC has over 1,000 agents and informers in Australia. The Chinese ambassador to Australia at that time Fu Ying said to journalists that: “If I was overseeing the work of so many spies, would I have time to meet with you all here?” Those who believed this remark have no idea of how professional secret agents work. What answer would we get if we asked the US ambassador in Beijing: “Are you the person who oversees the CIA and FBI agents?” In Australia, the CPC has three avenues of intelligence gathering: the PLA’s General Staff Headquarters, the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Public Security. With the embassy itself added to this, there are actually four avenues. Each avenue operates independently and in principle does not overlap with the others. If there is some overlap in respect of some politically sensitive issue, the matter is worked out through inter-departmental coordination among the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of Public Security and the embassy. The PLA’s General Staff Headquarters generally does not intervene in political matters except on the top national strategy. However, in counter-terrorist activities, there is some cross-over involvement, because this is a cash cow for obtaining rewards for achievements. Because they are corrupt or limited in terms of the funds allocated to them, the CPC agents often have close contacts with major corrupt figures or wealthy businessmen who have migrated to Australia. However, the Australian intelligence agencies generally just observe these links and allow these contacts to occur. The Chinese agents in Australia thus do not really know whether they are already under surveillance. Because of the development of voice sampling technology, Chinese agents can be monitored and recorded no matter what form of telephone line they are using. Further the former ploy of using telephone switching to avoid GPS location identification no long works. I am quite familiar with this aspect of the embassy and consulates. The embassy has a military officer who was sent by the PLA’s General Staff Headquarters. Everyone knows this. However many people do not know that there is another person sent by the General Staff Headquarters and based in Sydney. This officer operates independently and his expenses are provided in US dollars, sent by diplomatic bag. Since I left the diplomatic service, every major consulate has increased its staffing of Ministry of State Security personnel. For example, Sydney now has a second Deputy Consul General whose main function is to supervise the staff at the Consulate General, prevent defections and deal with orders from the Ministry of State Security. These Ministry of State Security and General Staff Headquarters personnel are sent to work in the embassy and consulates under the alias of local foreign affairs office staff or major state-owned enterprise staff. The work of Ministry of Public Security staff abroad mainly involves capturing fugitives and counter money-laundering tasks. But if you do not have any money, these officers will unlikely be going out of their way to abduct you. As part of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement exchanges, the Australian government is now promoting the passage of a “Treaty on Extradition between Australia and the People’s Republic of China”. It is possible that in future, this Treaty will be abused and employed to extradite political exiles. As soon as this treaty is passed, people such as the former Yunnan Provincial Party Committee Secretary Gao Yan 高严 will have to start shuddering. Most of the things mentioned above are fairly common knowledge. Working on a figure of 100-plus persons involved in each security branch, that means that there are 300-500 professional secret agents in Australia. If we add the 500-700 external “informers” in Chinese community organisations, student groups, Guangming ribao, Xinhua, China Association for Science and Technology affiliates and so on, a figure of over 1,000 persons involved in intelligence activities is very likely. Through over 10 years of operation, this contingent has expanded greatly. The majority of Australian intelligence agency funding is likely still directed at counter-terrorism activities, but I believe that the funding which is assigned to those beginners engaged in Chinese matters is far below that needed to counter the secret infiltration being carried out by China.

For a long time, the vast majority of Overseas Chinese have pursued a social philosophy where they seek individual security at the expense of principle, and they have allowed themselves to be “represented” by a few low-life Chinese persons who prostrate themselves before the CPC. Over the last 10-plus years, more and more Chinese Communist propaganda has been visited upon the great land of Australia, hijacking the local Chinese. Actually, those who ingratiate themselves with and fawn on the CPC are becoming much more widespread right across the globe. It is just that they are most numerous in Australia.

There is a song0 which goes: “If you close your eyes, nothing will you see. If you cover your ears, not a thing will you hear. But if truth be in your heart and hurt be in your chest, how long can you bear it and how long can you remain silent?”

In recent times, the ‘Australian Values Alliance’ has come to wide public attention because of its efforts to prevent a concert lauding Mao Zedong. This induced great anger among many young Chinese Australians! Further, on the second day after the Australian Bureau of Statistics website suffered hacking attacks from abroad, the Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison declared that, based on national security considerations, he was blocking the sale of Ausgrid to a Chinese and a Hong Kong company. Does this mean that the Australian government has now recognised that maintaining the integrity of Australian values is key to ensuring the country’s overall, long-term national security?

* *

Translated by: Chun Gwai-lo

NOTE

0“The wound of history” (历史的伤口), recorded by various Taiwanese artists in 1989 to support the Tian’anmen demonstrators.

Antipodica 1: The cis-Tasman yard

This is the middle post of a triple on CCP influence in Australia and New Zealand. The first two introduce former PRC diplomat Chen Yonglin’s 2016 China in Perspective piece on Australia as “China’s backyard”, presented for the first time in English.

0. Leading from the back end
1. The cis-Tasman yard
2. Chen Yonglin: Australia as China’s backyard

Meanwhile in Australia, Clive Hamilton’s book on CCP influence cis Fossam has just been published, after refusals by three publishers fearful the entities it discusses might retaliate. The first of these would-be publishers was the centenary Allen & Unwin, now prevented from profiting from a much-publicised tome in exchange for their ascent to the pantheon of the vicarious enforcers of CCP censorship, together with CUP (Censor U Poshly) and gleichgeschalteter Springer. I haven’t read the book yet, but news reports indicate it’s the culmination of years of work by Hamilton, together with his researcher Alex Joske, on the Party-state-Army’s influence in Australian academia, politics and, perhaps most importantly, coprorate power and coproratised think-tankery and academia. (A rather unfavourable review has just appeared.) In many ways, these activities seem to be more extensive than outre-Tasman, but they have been less successful: CCP influence has been the object of much scrutiny, press coverage and debate, and even some politicians have changed their minds about the need to welcome it. Although serious concerns about the CCP’s activities in Australia had been raised by John Fitzgerald more than a decade ago, and journalists (notably John Garnaut) were writing about billionaire United Frontling and political donor Chau Chak Wing 周泽荣 in 2009, it would seem it has taken a while for these activities to receive sustained attention and discussion in mainstream media and politics.

Given the abundant coverage of this topic in Australia, now including a book, debate about a book, and coverage of fights over a book, there’s no need to recapitulate it there. I will just remark I was delighted to learn Hamilton’s tome devotes an entire chapter to Bob Carr, a retired politician who has found a new career as director of a Research Institute initially funded by Huang Xiangmo 黄向墨 (Huang Changran 黄畅然), then Australia, now Oceania’s top United Frontling. Just like Raymond Huo’s Xi-speak slogan ignited in me the Passion of the Rolled-up Sleeve, prompting a closer look at New Zealand United-Frontlinghood, the peculiar circumstances of Carr’s ascent to Sinological punditry suffice to justify an interest in the Australian version.

I conclude this brief Antipodean detour with two items relevant to the Land of Yeast-Extract Delicacies. The first is a short parable I wrote to celebrate a state-media celebration of Carr’s scholarship. The second, for which the rest of this series is meant as an introduction, is an article by Chen Yonglin, a former Chinese diplomat who defected to Australia in 2005, presented here for the first time in English.

chen_wombat0

Tasmaniani cis maris aequora (Standards Australia / Wikimedia Commons).

After reaching the heights of Novoaustralocambrian and national politics, former Australian foreign minister and multi-term NSW premier Bob Carr (affectionately known as Beijing Bob (北京宝宝)) began a second career as head of the Australia-China Relations Institute (ACRI) at University of Technology Sydney (UTS). The University established ACRI in 2014, with money that included a donation from United Frontling Huang Xiangmo 黄向墨 (Huang Changran 黄畅然). Said donation we may affectionately call the ACRImonies. Huang was appointed ‘chairman’ of the Institute, in which capacity Huang chose Carr as director. Although Huang no longer chairs or funds it, the shop remains committed to a “positive and optimistic view of Australia-China relations”, radiatingpositive energy‘ (正能量) partly generated by “corporate contributions” from i.a. Chinese SOEs.

The Institute’s activities have received mixed reviews. James Leibold calls much of its output “one-sided, decontextualised fact sheets and opinion pieces” and criticises its “closed-door” activities and Carr’s meetings with CCP officials, including no less than Zhu Weiqun 朱维群, a United Front cadre well known to my regular readers. To an outside observer, ACRI’s most visible output does indeed make it look like a BRI-touting think tank. Like many other state and non-state actors, the CCP has a known interest in setting up, funding or otherwise grooming lobbyists for its policies; what is remarkable is that such groups can be institutionally embedded into universities, and continue to function as positive-energy emitters even if state-linked entities  have ceased to be their primary funders. This can look better and be more cost-effective than in-your-face exoprop endeavours like Confucius Institutes, and shows a savvy exploitation of the public disinvestment, bureaucratisation and corporatisation of universities in many countries. (United-Frontling munificence indeed allowed UTS to replace an existing China-studies centre with ACRI; the Australian National University intends to turn its own into a ‘hub‘ without permanent faculty staff.) The ACRImonies also illustrate another aspect of the vulnerability countries like Australia offer to such actors as the PRC Party-state: the ease with which moneyed lobbies can work their way into policy-making. Exposing (and mocking) ACRI’s PRC links might prompt a PR reaction, but it’s highly unlikely to reduce such vulnerability.

ECSN, a manifestation of the China News Service (中新社), takes a more charitable view of ACRI. A Carr panegyric last year talked of his “sharp eyes”. “Bob looks full of energy and well presented.” As behooves the director of “the only think tank in Australia that is dedicated to study Australia-China relations”, Carr has an office where “there is a statue of Yat-sen Sun [sic], the book titled ‘Art of War’ and other Chinese works.” Although the readily admitted that to “really become a ‘China expert’, there is still a long way to go”, he was portrayed holding a copy of Sunzi’s Art of War (孙子兵法), in its case.

chen_ecsn1.jpg
De bello australi. ACRI Director Carr holds a case containing a book (source).

I took the trouble to identify the tome. It’s a bilingual edition with Giles’ public-domain translation. It comes with some commemorative stamps, part of a series called, hardly in Giles’ English, “Collector’s Version of Chinese Classical Books in Silk Version”, marketed on Taobao as a coprorate gift fitting interactions with foreigners (送老外).

chen_songlaowai0
刷卡尔。

Carr’s gradus ad Parnassum. Readers of modest means may choose to read the same text, also with the Giles, on ctext. Those looking for more recent scholarship can go for Mair’s English; for those into older stuff, Amiot’s French is on Gallica.

In an exchange celebrating Carr’s erudition on a microblogging site, user Yun suggested Carr and others should read Zhuangzi 庄子 instead. I found the remark very sensible, and composed the following parable, an imitation of Zhuangzi’s famous butterfly dream. In it, Carr becomes a fruit, rather than butter-, fly, alluding to both Mao’s muscid poem (小小寰球,有几个苍蝇碰壁 On this tiny globe / A few flies dash themselves against the wall) and the Belt-and-Roady connotations of the genus name Drosophila (爱露 ‘dew-loving’), interpretable in Chinese as 爱[一戴一]露 ‘love of [One [Nipple] Covered, One] Revealed, [in scandalous homophony with “One Belt, One Road” (一带一路)]’.

Alex Joske has translated the parable and graciously authorised me to republish his version here, in a slightly edited form.

卡尔梦蝇

昔者卡尔梦为果蝇,自喻适志与!不远万里,飞蝇赴华,至越进汕。汕人见南蝇,知其嗜果,予之巨梨。栩栩然果蝇也,见梨乐级,食之美,饱足就寝矣。梦为卡尔,不知卡之梦为蝇与,蝇之梦为卡与?俄然有蟆焉,开口食之,知蝇也。

Carr dreams of a fly

Once, Carr dreamt he was a fruit fly, going about happily and as it pleased. It did not consider ten thousand li to be far away and flew over to China, reaching Chaoshan [Huang Xiangmo’s home region]. A man from Chaoshan saw this southern fly and knew it loved fruit, so he gave it a massive pear [a pun on a Chinese name for Sydney [雪梨 (Cantonese Syut3lei4)]. This fruit fly fluttered about, and upon seeing the pear was extremely delighted and ate it, tasting it sweetness. It became full and went to sleep. The fly dreamt it was Carr, but was not sure whether it was really Carr dreaming he was a fly, or a fly dreaming it was Carr. Suddenly, a toad [perhaps former president Jiang Zemin] appeared and opened its mouth to eat it. The toad knew it was a fly.

2. Chen Yonglin: Australia as China’s backyard

Antipodica 0: Leading from the back end

This is the initial post of a triple on CCP influence in Australia and New Zealand. The first two pieces are a prelude to former PRC diplomat Chen Yonglin’s 2016 China in Perspective piece on Australia as “China’s backyard”, presented for the first time in English.

0. Leading from the back end
1. The cis-Tasman yard
2. Chen Yonglin: Australia as China’s backyard

Antipodean developments lured this blog away from its usual northern haunts last year. In September, Anne-Marie Brady published a comprehensive treatment of United Front (统一战线) activities in New Zealand (Magic Weapons: China’s political influence activities under Xi Jinping; for the history of the Maoist ‘magic weapons’ (法宝, dharmaratnāni), cf. this post by Victor Mair). The CCP’s use of the political, business and academic élites of foreign countries for its policy purposes is a well-known aspect of United Front work, but the success of such ‘work’ in New Zealand, Brady’s systematic presentation of it, and reactions from the local élite make Kiwi United Frontics worth following even for those not specifically concerned with South Pacific affairs.

My interest in New Zealand politics had been triggered somewhat earlier, when I came across what I believed was a hoax attempting to discredit Labour MP Raymond Huo (霍建强) and his party by associating them to a bizarre Xi Jinping quote (‘roll up your sleeves and work hard(er)’) known for its masturbatory overtones and other pun potential (cf. “Comrades, ‘hike up your skirts for a hard shag’“). Only after extensive consultation and analysis, with many a face-palm, could I conclude that the quote was very much authentic, and Huo had been kite-flying it in earnest as the official Chinese version of Labour’s campaign slogan. After Brady’s report came out, I embedded my comments on the Xi quote (‘Skirts lifted, jewels unveiled’) into a post that detailed how the major political parties in New Zealand have essentially outsourced the political representation of a minority to individuals linked to organisations controlled by the Party-state (“United Frontlings always win”, in turn embedded into a China Heritage post (Geremie Barmé, “The battle behind the front“)).

For brevity, my ‘United Frontlings’ post focused on two individuals, Huo the rolled-up sleeved Xi-quoter and National Party MP Yang Jian 杨健, famous for his PLA intelligence background. While nominally competing for the Chinese-speaking electorate, Yang and Huo are functionally United Front eggs in different baskets. But various degrees of CCP influence are apparent across New Zealand’s political class, way beyond the Yang-Huo double act. Magic Weapons discusses political donations to the major parties, business links to politicians or their relatives, SOE jobs for former office-holders, MPs in Belt-and-Road lobbying groups, all traceable to United Front organisations and various entities linked to the Party-state. It’s a Who’s Who of New Zealand’s élite politics: former prime ministers Jenny Shipley, John Key and Bill English; former Labour leader, Auckland mayor Phil Goff; former National leader Don Brash; National MP Judith Collins, the ‘fun’ candidate to lead her party [UPDATE: she lost]. Better-known cases of successful PRC influence involve autocracies, structural corruption, ideological affinity, resurgent nationalism, debt diplomacy; in New Zealand, a prosperous, stable democracy among the least perceivedly corrupt, dependent on China for less than a fifth of its exports as of 2016, what has been published about CCP influence provides evidence for the effective exploitation, using legal, if little transparent, means, of a lack of relevant area expertise in policy-making, business influence on politics, and politicians and officials’ appetite for retirement options. Despite obvious differences, many of these tactics could be replicated in other Western small states, in particular some in Northern Europe, under this blog’s official remit.

With a sizable Chinese community, New Zealand is also the arena for the CCP’s long-term battle to win overseas Chinese support for a range of domestic and international strategy goals. Overseas work has been largely successful, at least at the leadership level, aided in part by attitudes among the monocultural majority that have evolved from a racist past to a form of respectful ignorance and undiscerning acquiescence with the pro-CCP takeover of community organisations.  Those not conforming to the  views of the alliance between the political-business élite and United Front organisations can expect to be doubly marginalised. As one Chinese Kiwi recently put it: in China, you have to cope with being a dissident, and abroad, with being both a dissident and Chinese.

Information has continued to emerge since the publication of Brady’s report. In this post, I will discuss two events that illustrate New Zealand’s outsourcing of ‘Chinese affairs’ to the Party-state, with an excursus on state efforts to control student organisations, before concluding that these achievements of United Front work are unlikely to be undone in the medium term.

Kiwi pollies mark the Year of Cerberus

The Magic Weapons have been inordinately effective in ensuring New Zealand’s cooperation with certain aspects of CCP propaganda efforts. One key goal of United Front work is to win the loyalty of overseas Chinese communities (by a broad jus sanguinis definition that purports to include even the descendants of people who emigrated a century before the PRC’s establishment), attempting to identify the CCP with all expressions of Chinese culture; another is to present a positive image of the Party-state’s leadership to non-Chinese-speaking foreigners, legitimising it as supported by the ruling élites of as many foreign states as possible. New Zealand’s politicians provide help towards both these goals.

According to a source with knowledge of the matter, recent requests from a CCP-unfriendly NZ Chinese organisation to have ministers send Chinese New Year greetings were reportedly redirected to Raymond Huo, effectively making the ruling party’s leading United Frontling, whose PRC-consonant views are wellknown, the government’s gatekeeper to contacts with the Chinese community. In contrast, ministers and other politicians didn’t hesitate to attend celebrations with PRC diplomats. In other words, the Party-state, through its local advocates, can vicariously veto official support for something as apolitical as a calendrical festivity, at least when the persons seeking such support happen to have Chinese surnames. Brady has quoted a “senior Chinese diplomat” as comparing New Zealand’s relations with China to Albania‘s dependence on the PRC during the ’60s; prophetically enough, Enver Hoxha’s name in Chinese (恩维尔·霍查) is interpretable as ‘[the Party’s] Benevolence (党恩) holds thee [and all else (Shi 191.3)] together; [Raymond] Huo inspects’.

chen_ji00.png
鸡犬立而吠。 Cerberus, immanis ianitor Factionis.

Source: KPDNKK.

Still in the Avian Year, NZ grandees offered the Party-state fulsome praise at international propaganda events. Last November, former National PM Dame Jenny Shipley attended Chau Chak Wing 周泽荣’s Imperial Springs Forum. Dame Jenny, further elevated to the dignity of a China Construction Bank (建设银行) employee, attended a post-forum audience with Xi Jinping in Beijing, where her praise of Xi and his Belt-and-Road Initiative made it into a People’s Daily piece proclaiming the world’s support for ‘the Chinese Approach (中国方案)’. National’s president, Peter Goodfellow, quoted as valuing “the Chinese” because “they don’t complain and they pay up“, sent a congratulatory message to the 19th Party Congress, as did his Labour counterpart, Nigel Haworth, who also showed up in person at the Auckland consulate to talk about “Xi Jinping’s wise leadership“. Haworth also attended an ‘interparty’ meeting between the CCP and assorted foreign parties in December; he praised Xi’s speech on camera for state media CGTN: “I think he is taking a very brave step, trying to lead the world to think about global challenges”. (Ironically, before becoming an apologist for an authoritarian regime that jails labour activitists, Haworth had an academic career specialising in Latin American labour movements. One has to wonder what insights from that field led him to develop a sincere admiration for the likes of Pinochet.)

Huo as unofficial gatekeeper and all the official Xi-fawning should suffice to illustrate how New Zealand’s main political parties actively work to advance key aspects of the CCP’s propaganda work.

Jobs for the Frontlings

New Zealand leads the world, not only thanks to its pioneering time zone, but in terms of official interaction with United Front organisations. The political determination to outsource Chinese constituents to CCP-affiliated groups isn’t limited to the ascent of United Frontlings Yang and Huo. When Brady’s report came out, Labour was running another ethnic Chinese candidate, Chen Naisi 陈耐锶. A law student who sounded like a candidate malgré soi (Brady quotes an interview where she claims to be “not in the least bit interested in politics“), Chen has an important position that might have justified Labour’s choice: the former presidency of the New Zealand Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA, 中国学生学者联合会) and current vice-same of its Auckland chapter. As we will see, Chen didn’t become an MP, but was appointed to a largely taxpayer-funded post of some significance.

The significance of Chen’s appointment might not be obvious to a casual observer. What’s so unusual about a student leader becoming moving into ‘grown-up’ politics, or about someone born in the PRC leading a primarily PRC student organisation? Unlike the well-connected politicians and officials described above, Chen has hardly begun a career, and is, by herself, not terribly influential in NZ-PRC relations. Some of her views, quoted below, are rather remarkable, but the significance of her post lies in her capacity as CSSA leader. In the following digression, I will detail how, while CSSA membership can have little to do with politics, leadership of a CSSA chapter implies a willingness to work under the direct ‘guidance’ of the Party-state, as well as a degree of ideological agreement with it, often subject to the evaluation and supervision of PRC diplomats. As will soon become clear, Party-state control over overseas student organisations is mandated by Party regulations, has been documented by specialised academics, is observable through state-media sources, and is readily declared by the organisations themselves, also in New Zealand. Not only is agreement with authoritarianism apparently compatible with mainstream New Zealand politics: a major party and a state-funded organisation actively seek to work with a United Front group, perhaps trying to ‘improve China ties’ by giving jobs to those (correctly) perceived as linked to the Party-state.

Correct guidance

CSSAs have been receiving some English-language attention of late, highlighting state connections that remain less than obvious to the non-Chinese-speaking public. In Australia, Alex Joske has been researching them for some time; see e.g. his piece with Wu Lebao 吴乐宝, and a fuller treatment in a section of the Hamilton-Joske parliament submission. Even a cursory look at CSSA Chinese-language websites will show that they’re typically established by the local consulates or embassies, that often contribute funding and ‘guidance’. For convenience, a wealth of screenshots showing these links, primarily in US universities, has been shared these days on a micro-blogging site, notably by Shawn Zhang 章闻韶. After a recent piece focusing on one particular instance of Embassy funding, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian is working on a longer treatment [UPDATE (Mar 7): Allen-Ebrahimian’s piece, with contributed research by Shawn Zhang, is out; plenty of detail on American CSSAs, based on multiple inside sources.]. Chen’s organisation, the Auckland CSSA, fits in this picture: a 2012 state-media article describes the association as “under the correct guidance of the education section of the Auckland consulate”. CSSAs are an aspect of the Party-state ‘Diaspora Affairs’ (侨务 qiaowu). James To notes that education attachés at diplomatic outposts began establishing CSSAs to support and ‘guide’ students abroad so as to “raise their patriotism” soon after 1989, as part of a general turn to nationalism intended to prevent the reemergence of dissent. The 1992 “State Council General Office Circular on matters relating to students studying abroad” (国务院办公厅关于在外留学人员有关问题的通知(国办发[1992]44号)) is clear about these policies: Chinese students abroad are welcome (or, if on government scholarships, required) to return, and graciously forgiven if they have been associated with “organisations opposed to the Chinese government”; those who take foreign passports must renounce PRC citizenship and will be “treated as ethnic Chinese of foreign nationality” (i.e., within the purview of qiaowu work); embassies and consulates are instructed to support them, as well as inform them of “our country’s situation”; students must be “educated” to respect local laws while “loving the motherland, protecting its reputation and interests and earning glory for the country”.

While these directives have been systematically implemented for decades, the Xi Era’s emphasis on United Front work also includes a stronger engagement with students abroad. In May 2015, in a speech at the work meeting of the Central United Front Work Department, Xi referred to those who study abroad as a “new focus of United Front work“. Within days, state media was featuring the work of the CSSAs and quoting selected CSSA leaders worldwide who answered this “call from the Motherland”, while popularising the gist of the speech on social media.

Quotes from the speech continue to be repeated and elaborated in doctrinary writing. A recent example is this piece published on Party theory magazine Qiushi 求是 under the Marxist Theory Research and Construction Project (马克思主义理论研究和建设工程) analysing Xi Jinping’s thought on the United Front, again with the “new focus” dictum.

The Party Central Committee’s 2015 “Regulations of the Communist Party of China on United Front Work (for trial implementation)” (中国共产党统一战线工作条例(试行)) include students abroad and back from overseas within the purview of United Front work, highlighting the role of the Western Returned Scholars Association (WRSA, 欧美同学会(中国留学人员联谊会); a venerable association no longer restricted to those who studied in the ‘West’). The WRSA, a United Front organisation, is having its purview extended to include supporting and liaising with students abroad and their organisations, pursuant to a set of recommendations issued by the Party Central Committee in 2016, emphasised in suggestions by a government-affiliated think tank ‘partnered’ with the WRSA, with which its leadership overlaps, and visibly implemented in links to at least some CSSAs.

The Ministry of Education (typically responsible for ‘guiding’ CSSAs through the education sections at diplomatic missions), in a celebrated directive from its Party organisation calling for more patriotic education, also called for the propagation of Xi’s “Chinese Dream” to students overseas through a network linking “the Motherland—embassies and consulates—overseas students groups—broad numbers of students abroad” (original; NYT coverage).

While this firmly anchors student organisations in official state policy and United Front doctrine under Xi, a recent example can illustrate the importance of students overseas for Xiism and show coordinated state ‘guidance’ of the CSSAs at work.

The Muscovite Letter

On 30 December last year, Xi Jinping replied to a letter from the Moscow State University CSSA on such edifying topics as the spirit of the 19th Party Congress. Its authors included the MSU CSSA’s president, Lu Sentong 卢森通, a lawyer who has also held positions at the Russian Association for the Peaceful Reunification of China (a United Front group) and the Union of Chinese Students in Russia (中国留俄学生总会, Союз китайских учащихся в России), to whose presidency the embassy has just elevated him. The letter was reviewed and forwarded to Beijing by the Embassy. Xi’s reply stops at around 300 characters, mostly used to extol the role of the young in the Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation and setting up a parallel to Mao’s 1957 speech at the same university during his visit for the Moscow Conference.

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像早晨八九点钟的太阳。Inter ludis virgines, stellis nebulam candidis spargis.

Mao Zedong with diplomatic staff and student representatives at the Chinese embassy. Moscow, November 1957. Source.

State media found the missive newsworthy. On the very 30th, the letter was read on China Central Television, during the 7pm news (Xinwen lianbo 新闻联播). Selected students, including the CSSA leader, watched it live at the PRC embassy.

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Students including MSU CSSA leader Lu Sentong 卢森通 watch the Imperial reply to their letter read live on Xinwen lianbo. PRC embassy in Moscow, December 30th, 2017 (Source). As of press time, it’s unclear if prior warning existed that Xi’s missive, dated that very day, had been given, or if the students and diplomats just happened to dress like that and meet up at 2pm on a Saturday to watch the universally loved broadcast.

The People’s Daily published Xi’s reply on its front page the next day.

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People’s Daily, 31 December 2017.

Education sections of diplomatic missions worldwide then proceeded to organise study sessions with students and scholars under their jurisdiction, in order to analyse the ‘spirit’ of Xi’s reply. This process, involving CSSAs and other groups, was then widely reported by state media, government-affiliated sites and publications, and some of the associations themselves on their websites and social media. The WRSA, the United Front organisation given increased jurisdiction to liaise with those who study abroad, has also reported on these exegesis sessions; it also organised what could be seen as the Mother of All Muscovite Missive Exegetics Meetings, attended by Dai Junliang 戴均良, deputy director of the Central United Front Department. The exoprop system was also set in motion to bring the good news to foreigners, even including such foreign partners as TASS, thanks to its increasing cooperation with PRC media.

The spirit of the Moscow Letter was studied in Singapore, Sweden, the US, Finland, South Korea; in Moscow, again; and in Aukcland, where, already on 31 December, the Consulate arranged a forum with students and visiting scholars. (The Auckland session didn’t involve the CSSA, but a small group of students on government scholarships (公派), who are more often expected to participate in this kind of event.)

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Season’s Greetings: Auckland New Year’s Eve Xi-Exegetics session organised for students on government scholarships, by Consular injunction. The banner quotes Xi’s 19th Party Congress report, with one character missing I believe (source).

No such thing as a discounted lunch

The global pantomime set up to fête Xi’s 300-odd characters is only one example of centrally coordinated political work aimed at students overseas; similar events, including ‘study sessions’, took place at other junctures, such as, of course, during the Party Congress. Of course, this doesn’t imply that political work constitutes the bulk of CSSA activity, or even a significant or noticeable part of it, as experienced by most members. Much as in the case of other student groups, the point of CSSA membership is surely access to social events, various forms of support or such goodies as restaurant discount vouchers, rather than the privilege of attending study sessions with Their Excellencies. In many cases, as in the rather poorly attended New Year’s Eve Imperial Moscow Correspondence Exegesis Symposium in Auckland, or, say, the Party Congress study session at Australian National University, involving the relatively rare sight of a (possibly ad hoc) Party cell on foreign soil, political work is only for visiting scholars or students on state scholarships, sometimes not even involving the actual CSSAs. On special occasions, however, the broad masses of CSSA members can be summoned, and not a few will respond: Hamilton and Joske describe the embassy-organised rallies to welcome Li Keqiang to Australia in 2017, with “hundreds of students” who were trained, and assigned roles in groups that included “security squads”.

Like other external groups involved in United Front work, the CSSAs spend most of their time and resources on non-political activities that offer actually useful services to a certain non-Party social group of UF interest. Members can be attracted by any number of incentives, from ‘discounted lunches’ to patriotic spirit. On the other hand, leaders of such organisations are surely clear about their political role: they place themselves under the ‘guidance’ of the education section of the local diplomatic mission (as in the case of Chen’s Auckland organisation); their election sometimes even takes place on consulate premises; candidates can be subject to the approval of a consulate, or directly designated by the embassy. A CSSA leader such as Labour’s Chen Naisi can’t credibly claim independence from its ‘guiding’ entity.

Chen’s own public statements are worth quoting. Asked about the revelations about Yang Jian’s military past during an English-language interview before the election, she claimed they would have “increased the level of support for Yang from the Chinese community.” She thought the community would have “emphatised” with Yang. Since the ‘community’ was actually divided over Yang, Chen probably had in mind her own ’empathy’ for a political adversary. She added: “In China it’s very hard not to have anything to do with the Communist Party, or even the military regime itself. It’s part of the working life. The hospital, the schools are all part of the regime.” Such a statement is either trivial (state institutions are of course somehow related to the Party in a one-Party state), or false (it’s not particularly easy to become a CCP member, let alone to have a career at a PLA institution; Yang’s career has little in common to that of, say, an average SOE employee).

Hätt’ ich nicht so viel getanzt

Although Chen lost the election, thus succeeding in staying away from all the ‘uninteresting’ politics, she is an advisor to the New Zealand China Council, a partially taxpayer-funded “cross-sector, peak body for the New Zealand-China relationship”. Its Advisory Council also includes both United Frontling MPs, Yang and Huo. Led by a former official turned consultant without known Chinese expertise, the Council works as a lobbying group advocating Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative, sometimes in cooperation with such organisations as Confucius Institutes (cf. a recent “Belt and Road Forum“, a genre affectionately known as BARF). His own website shows him performing a bowing dance, too cringey to reproduce here, in front of Li Keqiang 李克强, to his Premierial hilarity.

Chen Naisi is certainly politically junior to well-connected United Frontlings Yang and Huo, but her organisation’s profile and her own views leave no doubt that, by giving her such visible roles, Labour and the NZ China Council are signalling their acquiescence with relevant CCP policies. Labour, just like National, clearly agrees that the CCP’s United Front organisations have a natural right to represent New Zealand Chinese. The Council is also clear in its commitments; it has summarily dismissed the evidence of CCP political influence operations, and reaffirmed its advocacy of Xi Jinping’s geopolitical Initiative.

Conic relief

Soon after the revelations on Yang Jian and Brady’s report, Michael Reddell, an economist and former official, complained of the “cone of silence that seem[ed] to have descended over elite New Zealand” around Yang’s case. Indeed, Yang remains an MP, was consistently defended by Bill English, former PM and until recently leader of the National Party. I don’t think I’ve seen any senior Labour politician air the slightest criticism of a rival MP with a background in PLA intelligence. As seen above, senior politicians, officials and state-funded lobbyists continue to offer adulation to the Core and to advocate his Initiative. Local coverage has been modest, mostly limited to the work of one investigative journalist, Matt Nippert, at the nation’s paper of record, and some articles from news outlet Newsroom.

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原委如此。Conus insignis galeae cristaeque comantes. Source.

Brady was quickly placed under the cone. When Chris Finlayson, then the attorney general, was asked about Yang’s case and Brady’s work at a campaign event, he refused to “respond to any of the allegations” against Yang (which allegations Yang has confirmed himself) and proceeded to complain about “a whole class of people” being “singled out for racial abuse”, before insulting Brady: “I don’t think she likes any foreigners at all.” While her work has been quoted by scholars and journalists the world over, and was probably a key factor in initiating the current scrutiny of Chinese influence in the West, it has had little visible effect in her own country. Reactions came from state nationalistic tabloid Global Times (环球时报), which posted a piece through social media quoting NZ-based “young scholar” Ken Liu (Liu Yuxi 刘羽西) attacking Brady’s views (since she “lacks understanding of China and still looks at it using Cold-War thinking”). Liu is a member of the NZ China Friendship Society, as well as of the All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese (中国侨联), a United Front group. He has contributed praise of China’s political system to Skykiwi (天维网), a Chinese-language website linked to state media.

Ardern’s concerns

A more kinetic response followed. Brady had her office and house burgled. Laptops and phones were stolen, while “[[o]ther] valuables weren’t taken”. The burglaries did generate considerable press coverage; PM Jacinda Ardern expressed concern about possible links between the attack and Brady’s work, and announced she would “be asking some questions” of the intelligence service.

Whatever indignation the Relevant Burglaries might generate, New Zealand’s political, business and academic landscape makes it rather unlikely that the CCP’s influence operations will be seriously questioned. Ardern might be sincerely concerned about people being burgled, but, if my sources are to be believed, her government continues to keep a United Frontling as gatekeeper to Chinese-community interaction. Her party is presided by an apologist of totalitarian ‘wise leadership’. Her Loyal Opposition has even stronger CCP links, takes pride on its PLA-intel man; National, and so perhaps one day the government, might [UPDATE: not so] soon be led by Judith Collins, the peculiar business background of whose family couldn’t be freely discussed when she was a minister, and could become fully taboo under her premiership.

As observant readers might have noticed, Brady’s surname pops up rather frequently in this and other accounts of Zelanian United-Frontics. Brady is a well-known scholar and has pioneered the subject, but it’s rather unusual to see almost no one else broach the topic. New Zealand has, after all, a fair number of Sinologists; their silence speaks volumes. Discussion of CCP influence elsewhere has led to vigorous debate, while in New Zealand it’s just Brady. Brady, shm(r)ady!

More generally, nothing suggests a change is imminent in the monolingual, monocultural majority élite’s view of China (and everyone and everything ‘Chinese’) as an exotic totum that will rain deals, junkets and votes on you if you just help it conceal its dirty laundry, ape the lingo of its eternal Leader, entertain it with a mock-Asian bowing dance and show it your stupeur et tremblements. While an obvious improvement over ethnic prejudice, this is still intellectual laziness. Our favourite Frontlings know how to play the ‘inscrutable’ card to the China-naïve: when confirming he hid his background from the public, Yang Jian said the “system” in China was too “complicated”; Raymond Huo called his prosaic Xi-speak election motto “an auspicious Chinese idiom”; Chen Naisi explains Yang’s background as just everyday life in China, comparing PLA intel-school staff to rank-and-file SOE employees. If you don’t know Chinese, can’t find China on a map of China, and are too lazy to learn, those are acceptable responses. Such organisations as the NZ China Council, ~⅔-funded by the public to play a role in engaging with a major trade partner, are led by the China-illiterate, and effectively outsource all thinking tasks to advocates of the entity they’re meant to engage. When it comes to China, common sense is suspended; or do how-to-negotiate books sold at Wellington Station teach you to let the other side do your due diligence for you?

As it continues to slide down the BARF-y Road, New Zealand is worth keeping an eye on for those interested in United Front Work and techniques for coopting Western élites. Since no policy change seems likely, one should expect United Frontlings and the motley prancing lobbyhood will at least stay funny. Huo’s borderline-onanistic Xi-speak campaign slogan is admittedly hard to beat, but the ever-gushing geyser of what Barmé calls New China Newspeak will hopefully produce something on time for the next election. Should the Nats need an advisor, I might try and merge Holyoake’s “Steady does it” into Xi’s Donkey Theory (驴论); but there’s surely more potential in an amalgam of Xi’s rerefloatment of Mao’s “Knife Handle [in the Party-and-people’s hands]” (党和人民手中的刀把子) and Judith Collins’ “I stab from the [F]ront”.

This concise introduction to the Backyard piece will now continue across the Ditch.

1. The cis-Tasman yard

Icy Xi-speak and northerly exoprop: the Arctic White Paper

[These jottings on the much-hyped Paper are still under revision. Further notes can be expected next week.]

The Arctic White Paper released last week (中国的北极政策, China’s Arctic Policy) is perhaps the first unified presentation of the PRC’s Arctic activities for foreign audiences. A product of the Party-state’s foreign propaganda (外宣, ‘exoprop’) apparatus, the document does not set policy guidelines or announce new plans. More than for what it says, largely confirming well-known policies, the paper is interesting for what it doesn’t. Some key themes of PRC Arctic strategy (natural-resource acquisition, alternative trade routes, state support for investment, tourism development, participation in Arctic governance) are there, while the national-security motivation and the Arctic’s integration within larger polar and maritime policy, both present in Chinese-language materials, are left out of this document. Xi-speak tropes and slogans (the Arctic version of the New Era’s New China Newspeak) are selectively translated based on their international adequacy, diluting two China-as-a-power items and mixing them with regionally and globally fashionable vocabulary. While the Paper, a straight-forward text supplied with an authoritative translation, doesn’t require a deep analysis, the way its presentational aspects have become the focus of much Western coverage of the document can help assess its effectiveness as a PR product. Western commentary’s lingering passiveness and dependency on English-language input leave a vacuum that exoprop is eager to fill. After a brief overview of the Paper’s vocabulary, assertions and omissions, based on the Chinese original with reference to the official translation, this post will turn to its function as a ‘discourse power’ (话语权) tool.

An Arctic strategy document had long been expected. Internationally, China’s silence contrasted with Arctic policy papers published by fellow non-Arctic players: South Korea’s 2013 Arctic Strategy Master Plan (북극정책 기본계획), the Arctic sections of Japan’s 2013 Ocean Policy Master Plan (海洋基本計画) and the 2015 Arctic Policy (我が国の北極政策), the German and Italian Guidelines, among others. This generated a lack of trust and, perhaps more importantly, left officials and analysts without Chinese skills short of documents to talk about. The document also caters to domestic needs. A public strategy can help state and non-state players competing for funds and backing a way to justify their projects by anchoring them in national policy.

What it says

As behooves a propaganda document, the Paper is peppered with Xi-speak items. A favourite with worldwide BRI-touters, ‘Humankind’s Community of Shared Destiny’ (人类命运共同体), is surely there, while two Xi-isms pertaining to the China-rise narrative, ‘Chinese wisdom’ (中国智慧) and ‘strength’ (中国力量) are collapsed into just ‘wisdom’ in the official translation. Another two invocations specific to Arctic exoprop will be discussed in the last section.

Proper emphasis is placed on opening trade routes and exploiting natural resources, recapitulating two known pillars of Chinese polar policy. Notable Chinese extractive activities in the Arctic include the Yamal LNG project in Russia, as well as mining investments in Russia, Greenland and Canada. CNOOC (中海油) was the main, then the only player in oil and gas exploration in Iceland before giving up its licence last week.

The PRC asserts its rights to fishing and extractive exploitation in the high seas (公海) and “international seabed areas” (国际海底区域, translated as “the Area”) of the Arctic Ocean. Commercial fishing in the central Arctic Ocean is to be forbidden until 2033 by an agreement China was involved in drafting. Its renewal beyond that date can be stopped by the objection of a country, and China’s expanding fishing fleet and explicit intentions make it clear that the long-term goal is to fish in those waters. Given known Chinese fishing practices and a history of fishing rights disputes in the region, this could become a point of contention in the medium term. Unlike fishing rights, China’s rights to some sub-sea resources could be limited if any of the competing extended continental shelf claims by Arctic states as part of the implementation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) were to succeed. Canada, Denmark (on behalf of Greenland) and Russia have presented overlapping claims extending all the way to the North Pole. (The UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf has already issued a positive recommendation endorsing a more modest Norwegian claim that includes the remarkably named ‘Loophole’ (Smutthullet/Smottholet, later covered by a treaty with Russia) and ‘Banana Hole’ (Smutthavet/Smotthavet or (seemlingly less often) Bananhullet/(?)Bananholet).) While China has little need for international law and multilateralism in the South China Sea, it commits to them as its only road to leverage in a region where it’s a new, external player.

Regional organisations are paid due acknowledgment, with a few sentences devoted to the Arctic Council, where China has been a permanent observer since 2013. Lesser forums are also mentioned. The order matters, as it’s not lexicographical (by pinyin or stroke count). Pride of place is given to Putin’s “The Arctic—Territory of Dialogue” (Арктика—территория диалога), followed by former Icelandic president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson’s Arctic Circle (whose advisory board includes the head of China’s polar institute, and two scientific and business partners of PRC entities as Icelandic representatives), then the Tromsø event Arctic Frontiers, and China’s own Sino-Nordic research centre.

Repeated expressions of state “encouragement” (鼓励) for enterprises to invest in infrastructure, natural resources and tourism accurately reflect current policy. The tourism industry, prominently mentioned, provides good examples of private enterprises in the Arctic working in tandem with state policy-making. One of its key roles is to communicate China’s polar-powerhood and national strategies to a domestic audience. In a rather spectacular example I researched last year, Guangzhou-based ‘élite’ travel club Souluniq (心友汇) provided a public for the ‘official’, yet surreptitious, launch of a project to build a satellite ground station in Greenland and the first known Chinese UAV flight there.

What it doesn’t say

Another pillar of PRC Arctic policy is national security. Part of the significance of Arctic trade routes stems from the possibility of avoiding conflict-prone areas and solving the ‘Malacca dilemma’ (马六甲困局). Defending them will require the involvement of the PLAN. As a senior Chinese scientist recently put it, “threats to China come from the Arctic”. China doesn’t still have enough satellite ground stations in the Arctic as required by research purposes, in particular, for the dual-use Beidou 北斗 navigation system. The new Greenland project is therefore an important addition to the existing station in Kiruna, Sweden. Speculatively, a site under consideration for China’s first permanent research station in Greenland, at around 83°N, could provide an interesting location for satellite reception.

Institutionally and in terms of staff, China has an integrated polar strategy. The natural-resource motivation asserted in this Paper applies to Antarctica as well. In turn, polar policy belongs under maritime policy, with its increasing emphasis on becoming a ‘maritime superpower’ (海洋强国). Resource acquisition also involves global, rather than regional, policies. Some (near-)Arctic activities are best analysed within larger frameworks. E.g., a recent proposal by a state, Party and Army-linked consortium to build a deep-sea port in Sweden was cancelled after controversy that indeed highlighted its significance in a global context; similarly, state-controlled investment in Greenlandic rare earths is linked to ministerially-defined long-term strategies on the domestic production and export and overseas development of those minerals.

Greenland isn’t mentioned by name; Denmark is. Greenland is increasingly important to China, with two mining projects near production, high-level contacts, infrastructure talks and scientific cooperation, and the topic of Greenland independence (of potential benefit to China) now openly discussed in Chinese academia. Officially, though, China avoids being perceived as supporting independence in any way and treats its authorities as a regional government. Again, this shows diplomatic savvy on a sensitive topic for Denmark.

The national-security significance of the Arctic and the relevance of other strategy areas are present in the PRC’s presentation of its Arctic policies to domestic audiences, but don’t belong in a document tailored to the sensitivities of Arctic stakeholders and the regional public. Those interested in China’s actual Arctic strategy, rather than its foreigner-friendly presentation, would learn more from the work of analysts such as Anne-Marie Brady, whose recent treatment of China’s polar ambitions can be read as an Arctic (and Antarctic) strategy avant la lettre. Specifically, the national-security motivations the institutional integration of Arctic, Antarctic and maritime policy, as well as their interaction with the propaganda system and other policy areas, are best described in her book, on which this section is largely based.

An excursus into exoprop

In a clear exoprop exercise, the Paper was released by the State Council Information Office (SCIO, 中央新闻办), presented not by a representative of the organs with decision power on Arctic affairs, but by Kong Xuanyou (Gong Hyeon-u 공현우 孔铉佑), a foreign-affairs vice minister with responsibility for maritime affairs, but best known as special representative for the Korean peninsula. Rather than policy guidelines, the paper is primarily an international message, and its effectiveness can be judged by its success in guiding global discourse.

Some reports have described the paper as ‘unveiling’ China’s ‘Silk Road on Ice’ (冰上丝绸之路), or announcing its ‘near-Arctic’ (近北极) status. This is inaccurate. The latter self-descriptor has been installed for over half a decade. It has been negatively perceived because of its questionable geographic base, although it refrains from any territorial claims. Revisionist claims can be found in the odd publication, e.g. denouncing the Nerchinsk treaty and describing Chinese ‘effective administration’ over swathes of Siberia under the Tang and the Yuan reaching the Arctic Ocean. Although about as historically rigorous as those justifying the annexation of the South China Sea, they enjoy no government support or inform Arctic policy.

The ‘Silk Road on Ice’ (冰上丝绸之路), a Xi-speakism of purely invocatory character and no great consequence, deserves a closer look as it’s less known. The phrase ‘Silk Road on Ice’ isn’t new, or had been ‘veiled’. The literal phrase has been official for half a year; the concept (embedding the Northern Sea Route into the Belt-and-Road project) is much older. Brady notes that it began being used soon after Xi’s late-2014 Hobart speech, in which he famously spoke of China as a “polar great power” (极地强国). Officially, the ‘Ice Silk Road’ concept is now traced back to a sentence in a joint communiqué (Chinese, Russian) at the 2015 regular meeting of Chinese and Russian heads of government, calling for cooperation in Arctic navigation. Although that locus classicus doesn’t actually mention the Silk Road (the document does elsewhere), its mention helps install the Ice Road as a joint, or even Russian, idea, avoiding a perception of Chinese encroachment. Official use of the literal phrase ‘Silk Road on Ice’ seems to begin in May last year, with foreign minister Wang Yi 王毅 calling it a Russian idea that the Chinese side “welcomed and supported“. In Russian media, the phrases ледяной/ледовый Шёлковый путь, Шёлковый путь на льду generally refer to the Chinese concept, although a possibly native coinage of similar meaning exists: deputy premier Dmitry Rogozin’s ‘Cold Silk Road’ (холодный Шёлковый путь), proposed in 2015. The definitive auctoritas for the ‘icy’ version as PRC officialese is its utterance by Xi Jinping in July. Since then, it has become official vocabulary.

Such misreadings of the Paper’s novelty and aims help confirm that, when it comes to the Arctic, the bulk of Western commentary does in fact mostly react to the propaganda system’s output streams. As evidence of the exoprop system’s Arctic ‘discourse power’ gains, the Paper’s coverage is more interesting than the Paper itself.

[Thanks to Anne-Marie Brady and Dag Inge Bøe.]