General Secretary Xi Jinping resigned from the Chinese Communist Party’s 20th National Congress. There was no obvious challenge. His “Wolf Warrior”, contentious diplomacy will continue. The U.S., its allies, and friends will need to continue fighting Chinese attacks on their sovereignty. The People’s Republic of China defends its domestic policies against foreign intrusions and attempts to imitate its illiberal values to other countries.
Much has already been written on PRC influence operations within the U.S.A and other developed democracies. This is a serious threat to democratic countries. Some governments like Washington that complain about Chinese activity seek to influence countries. The Chinese regime’s malign behavior and unmatched ability to recruit private resources raises unique concerns.
Multiple opportunities for economic advantage have been created by the PRC’s growing wealth, many of which can be problematic even though they are legal. China’s trade and investment relationships with the United States naturally give rise to political influence. The PRC’s economic power has been particularly significant in Asia, where it has outperformed Japan and the U.S. as a business partner. Companies around the globe have been influenced by the desire to access the Chinese market, even the U.S.
Particularly concerning is Beijing trading access to the Chinese market. The U.S. Trade Rep has highlighted many issues, including the use of “foreign ownership restrictions…to require or pressure technology transfer by U.S. businesses,” and encouraging “the systematic investment and acquisition of U.S. firms and assets by Chinese corporations to… generate technology transfer to Chinese companies.”
These practices are generally voluntary , and technology transfer may be economically advantageous. The nature of the PRC regime raises other concerns. Individual actions that benefit Western companies could collectively help a government that is fundamentally hostile towards Western nations.
The PRC also threatened companies’ access into its market if they don’t conform to Beijing’s requirements. This includes , which is the name that was given to Taiwan by airline websites. Basketball leagues and teams have been economically punished for criticizing Chinese practices. Although these decisions are not coercive in nature, private entities have chosen to comply to maintain economic access. However, the effect is the imposition CCP policy in America.
Beijing established Confucius Institutes in cooperation with universities to promote Chinese culture and language, and to informally advance national political priorities. These organizations are dependent on their counterpart institutions’ character, which may have sometimes abandoned academic values such as freedom of speech to obtain financial resources. Although concern about the overall influence of the institutes seems excessive, operating agreements and activities may not always be transparent and some schools may have selfcensored criticisms from the PRC. To the detriment students, universities have also chased Chinese money in other ways.
The Belt and Road Initiative, a major Xi initiative, funds development projects without any restrictions related to economic reform or human right. The original expectations were high, and caused concern from allied countries. BRI has not met its greatest critics. Many projects have been in financial and/or political difficulties, and there has not been much evidence that such projects are systematically becoming debt traps. The program has undoubtedly increased Beijing’s global influence. The PRC has acted much like the U.S. by withholding commercial benefits from countries. This includes banning imports, prohibiting tourism and imposing other economic sanctions.
These policies do not “force” any other countries, companies or individuals to take action. However, the fact that Leninist states are able to use both private and public means to punish critics or aggrandize themselves is a problem. The PRC actively interferes in politics, employs private actors for spying, and applies coercive force to citizens abroad, even those who fled China.
Chinese money has been found in the political systems of other countries, leading to criticism in Australia. Espionage by China is a serious problem not only in the U.S. , but also in Europe. Although the extent of these activities has been disputed, students and academics from China have been used to do so . The U.S. government charged Beijing for using academics to obtain information.
The PRC monitors and punishes students who criticize government policies. The most offensive was the use relatives to hold hostages for requesting information from overseas Chinese, as well as to remain silent about Beijing’s rights abuses and to return home to receive certain punishment. To pressure emigres, the PRC also controls passports.
China’s ability for its nominal private sector to influence the other nations is a violation of liberal values. We must respond. It is not clear that Beijing’s influence campaigns were very successful and can be countered by cooperation between democratic governments as well with less liberal friends who are concerned about the same issues. The government should demand greater transparency from institutions like Confucius Institutes, and share information about Chinese United Front activities. Friendly states should increase disclosure requirements for technology transfer that is required for investment and reduce legal barriers for companies like airlines cooperating with Chinese demands. Private actors should be empowered to resist Beijing’s demands.
It might be beneficial to pass countervailing legislation that would prohibit compliance with the most dangerous PRC diktats. Allies should also consider collective policies to counter Chinese economic aggressions. Allies could punish PRC enterprises and provide financial support for those who are targeted. This effort must be multilateral and not an unrestricted U.S. subsidy to industrial countries in political or economic disputes with Beijing.
What about the BRI? The U.S. and European countries have offered a minimal alternative, which is unlikely to succeed. A poor Western experience with foreign assistance and multilateral development banks suggests that allied governments should urge the PRC to invest more money in BRI projects, increasing Beijing’s losses. To better understand the terms and prognosis for proposed BRI projects, market-friendly countries could provide practical assistance to potential borrower.
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Allies should meet to discuss ways to counter Beijing’s threats to foreign citizens, Chinese living, working, and schooling in other countries. While it may not be possible to stop the PRC’s pressure on Chinese families, liberal governments should expel and punish Chinese students and operatives who engage in malicious activities. To punish the unacceptable behavior of the PRC, other retaliatory actions should be taken, such as against Chinese investment and trade. In return for endorsing critics with verifiable extraterritorial support, democratic states could offer to lower public criticisms of Beijing’s human rights.
It would be a good idea to work together today in order to coordinate non-military response tomorrow to any potential Chinese aggression against Taiwan or other disputed territories in the Asia-Pacific. Beijing might be encouraged to pursue a peaceful and patient strategy despite the possibility of being subject to economic pressure from Western industrial countries like Russia.
Beijing is always ready to interfere in the affairs of other countries. All partner countries and the United States should work together to resist Chinese intrusions. The PRC isn’t going away, and economic decoupling is still possible. Allies should therefore work together to build a more limited but still workable relationship with China in the near future.