By Cathy He
Psychological warfare. Public opinion warfare. Legal warfare.
Known as the “three warfares” doctrine and relatively unknown in the West, these concepts serve as key strategies guiding the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in its quest to win a war against the free world without firing a single shot.
Psychological warfare seeks to demoralize the enemy; public opinion warfare seeks to shape the hearts and minds of the masses; legal warfare seeks to use systems of law to deter enemy attacks.
This explanation was set out in a recently released 650-page report that provides a comprehensive illustration of the Chinese communist regime’s global influence operations. The French-language report was published by the Institute for Strategic Studies of Military Schools (IRSEM), an independent agency affiliated with the French Ministry of Armed Forces.
Combined with another key CCP doctrine called “United Front” work, these principles have undergirded a breathtaking campaign by the Chinese regime to expand its influence and infiltration into Western democracies, the report stated.
United Front, described by the CCP’s first leader Mao Zedong as a “magic weapon,” is a policy that, according to the report, involves the regime “eliminating its internal and external enemies, controlling groups that may challenge its authority, building a coalition around the Party to serve its interests, and projecting its influence abroad.”
The report comes amid rising pushback from the West against CCP aggressions, including its severe human rights abuses, rampant theft of intellectual property, economic coercion, and military assertiveness.
Guided by such strategies, the Chinese regime has built a sprawling infrastructure with global reach consisting of a broad network of state and non-state actors to execute its plans.
According to IRSEM, Beijing’s influence operations abroad have two main objectives: “to seduce and subjugate foreign audiences by creating a positive narrative of China,” and “above all, to infiltrate and coerce.”
“Infiltration aims to slowly penetrate opposing societies in order to hinder any inclination to act against the interests of the Party,” the report stated.
“Coercion corresponds to the gradual expansion of ‘punitive’ or ‘coercive’ diplomacy to become a policy of systematic sanction against any state, organization, enterprise or individual threatening the interests of the Party.”
Targets of the CCP’s campaigns span the whole spectrum of society. Key battleground areas include education, media, politics, culture, and social media.
United Front Work in Action
Much of Beijing’s overseas United Front efforts are carried out through a “nebulous network of intermediaries” loosely coordinated by CCP bodies, including Chinese embassies and consulates, and the Party’s United Front Work Department, the report stated.
In a 2020 speech, then-Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific affairs David Stilwell said the CCP leverages thousands of overseas groups that carry out political influence operations, suppress dissident movements, gather intelligence, and facilitate the transfer of technology to China.
While some United Front organizations publicly state their affiliation with Beijing, “most try to present themselves as independent, grassroots-type NGOs, cultural-exchange forums, ‘friendship’ associations, chambers of commerce, media outlets, or academic groups,” Stilwell said at the time.
A 2020 investigation by Newsweek found about 600 such groups in the United States.
One of those groups highlighted in the report is the China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF).
CUSEF is a Hong Kong-based nonprofit headed by billionaire and Chinese regime official Tung Chee-hwa that bills itself as an independent group working to provide U.S.–China dialogues and exchanges. But in reality, it “functions as a de facto front organization for the PRC [People’s Republic of China] government,” the report stated, citing the findings from a 2020 study by Jamestown Foundation, a Washington-based think tank. The group is also registered under the U.S. Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA).
The group has entered into a range of partnerships with a range of prestigious American think tanks and universities, which IRSEM characterized as a bid to “launder” its influence activities. Partners include Johns Hopkins University, the East-West Institute, the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, the Atlantic Council, and the Brookings Institution.
Earlier this year, CUSEF’s ties to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace came under the spotlight during the nomination hearing for CIA Director William Burns. Prior to his nomination, Burns served as president of the think tank. Facing criticism from Republican lawmakers, Burns told the Senate hearing that he had “inherited” Carnegie’s relationship with CUSEF but cut ties with the group “not long after” he began his tenure in 2015. Burns further said he was “increasingly worried about the expansion of Chinese influence operations.”
The group also sponsors many high-level dialogues between CCP officials and U.S. military and political figures, the report stated.
U.S. media have also been targeted by CUSEF. It has organized trips to China for more than 120 journalists from almost 50 U.S. media outlets since 2009, The Epoch Times previously reported.
From 2009 to 2017, CUSEF also hosted a range of dinners and meetings with executives and editors from 35 outlets, including Time magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The New York Times, The Associated Press, and Reuters. The group’s FARA filings described the dinners, hosted by CUSEF founder Tung, as “invaluable for their effectiveness in engaging support from the leaders of the news industry.”
The Epoch Times has reached out to CUSEF for comment.
Overseas ethnic Chinese populations, even those who aren’t Chinese citizens, find themselves as “priority targets” of Beijing’s influence operations, according to the report. One objective, according to IRSEM, is to control the diaspora such that “they do not represent a threat to power;” the other is to “mobilize them to serve its interests.”
Described by Freedom House as the world’s largest perpetrator of transnational repression, Beijing has targeted a range of overseas-based dissident groups, including Uyghur Muslims, rights activists, Hong Kong democracy proponents, and Falun Gong practitioners.
Victims face physical attacks, threats, surveillance, harassment, and intimidation by Chinese agents or their proxies, in person or online, the advocacy group stated in a February report.
In one extreme example, Freedom House noted the case of Sun Yi, a Falun Gong practitioner who survived imprisonment in the notorious Chinese labor camp Masanjia. Falun Gong is a spiritual practice that has been brutally persecuted by the CCP for more than two decades.
While he was detained, Sun snuck an SOS letter into a Halloween decoration for export. It was later found by an American woman in 2012. He filmed a documentary with undercover footage detailing his experiences and escaped to Indonesia.
In 2017, Sun died of sudden kidney failure. His family said Sun never had kidney problems, and the hospital didn’t give concrete details of his death and rushed to have his body cremated. No autopsy was performed. These circumstances have caused Sun’s supporters to suspect foul play.
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