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US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, China’s Overseas United Front Work, August 24, 2018

This report for the commission was written by Alexander Bowe. China’s United Front Work (海外统战工作) is coming under increasing scrutiny by the U.S. government.

August 24, 2018

Executive Summary

China uses what it calls “United Front” work to co-opt and neutralize sources of potential opposition to the policies and authority of its ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The CCP’s United Front Work Department (UFWD)—the agency responsible for coordinating these kinds of influence operations—mostly focuses on the management of potential opposition groups inside China, but it also has an important foreign influence mission. To carry  out its influence  activities  abroad,  the  UFWD  directs  “overseas  Chinese  work,” which  seeks to  co-opt  ethnic  Chinese  individuals and communities living outside China, while a number of other key affiliated organizations guided by China’s  broader  United  Front  strategy conduct influence operations targeting  foreign actors and states.  Some  of  these  entities  have  clear  connections  to  the  CCP’s  United  Front  strategy,  while  others’  linkage  is  less explicit. Organizations such as Chinese Students and Scholars Associations are less directly tied to the main United Front-related organizational structure, but many of their activities and acceptance of oversight from the CCP shows some level of guidance from the United Front strategy.

Today,  United  Front-related  organizations  are  playing  an  increasingly  important  role  in  China’s  broader  foreign  policy under Chinese President and General Secretary of the CCP Xi Jinping. It is precisely the nature of United Front work to seek influence through connections that are difficult to publicly prove and to gain influence that is interwoven with sensitive issues such as ethnic, political, and national identity, making those who seek to identify the negative effects of such influence vulnerable to accusations of prejudice. Because of the complexities of this issue, it is crucial for the U.S. government to better understand Beijing’s United Front strategy, its goals, and the actors responsible for achieving them if it is to formulate an effective and comprehensive response. This staff report provides an overview of the United Front, its history and ideology, the structure and operations of the UFWD and other organizations carrying out United Front work, and the implications of this activity for the United Statesl

Click here for the full report