Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.
For those of you who don't know, the U.S.-China commission was established by Congress when it voted essentially to pave the way for China to join the WTO, out of lingering concerns about what that would mean. We do a report, 575 pages with recommendations to Congress, which I'm happy to send copies of. I think it's important to acknowledge that we are bipartisan, sometimes one of the only bipartisan institutions functioning here in Washington, D.C.
Our countries, of course, share not only a border, but also values: belief in democracy, human rights and the rule of law; respect for freedom of speech, religion, association; and a free press. We stand with you in opposition to the unjust imprisonment of the two Michaels and urge their immediate release.
Our shared values are increasingly in conflict with and under assault by the Chinese Communist Party. Last Wednesday, FBI director Chris Wray, testifying before the Senate intelligence committee, said:
I don't think there is any country that presents a more severe threat to our innovation, our economic security and our democratic ideas. And the tools in their toolbox to influence our businesses, our academic institutions, our governments at all levels are deep and wide and persistent.
He noted that the agency is opening an investigation into various Chinese government actions here in the United States every 10 hours and currently has over 2,000 investigations that tie back to the Chinese government.
A major tool for CCP influence is the United Front Work Department, which seeks to co-opt and neutralize sources of potential opposition to the policies and authority of the Chinese Communist Party. The United Front's efforts take place both within and outside China.
The United Front has played an increasing role in China’s foreign policy since Xi Jinping’s leadership began. In 2019 alone, China’s national and regional United Front systems spent more than $2.6 billion U.S., more than the budget of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The mission of the United Front's work includes the goal of “guiding” overseas Chinese to ensure they support the CCP. There is also a strong focus on co-opting and influencing non-ethnic Chinese foreign elites. United Front activities are tricky to discuss in light of increasing xenophobia and violence against Asian Americans. We must be careful always to draw a distinction between the CCP and the Chinese people.
One major target of the United Front is Chinese-language media in non-Chinese countries, which they seek to co-opt or outright control, ensuring the CCP controls the flow of information available to Chinese speakers. For example, the China News Service, an official Chinese government Chinese-language news platform, which also covertly runs other overseas media agencies, is officially part of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, which is controlled by the United Front.
To address concerns about CCP influence in media, the U.S.-China commission has recommended, among other things, that the U.S. Congress strengthen the Foreign Agents Registration Act to require the registration of all staff of Chinese state-run media entities, given that Chinese intelligence-gathering and information warfare efforts are known to involve staff of Chinese state-run media organizations. We've also recommended that Congress modify communications regulations to require greater transparency regarding Chinese government ownership of media outlets and the clear labelling of media content sponsored by the Chinese government.
The United Front-affiliated organizations include Chinese students and scholars associations, Confucius Institutes and professional organizations, which offer benefits and support for Chinese students on university and college campuses. This support includes social networking, assistance finding housing and professional advancement. In return, students are expected to rebut any criticism of the CCP and to encourage support for CCP’s global rise. Other sources of leverage exist for pressuring students and others who are uncooperative, including Uighurs, such as threatening family members back in China.
The U.S. Department of Justice late last year charged multiple individuals for their alleged attempts to threaten, coerce or harass certain residents of the United States to repatriate to China. Eight individuals were charged with conspiring to act in the U.S. as illegal agents of the PRC, with six also facing charges for conspiring to commit interstate and international stalking.
Attacks on freedom of speech on campuses are rising, such as attacks on students who support the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement, and challenges inside classrooms to teachings that question the CCP's narrative. At the same time, there is pressure to self-censor, which of course is a less visible response to the United Front's tactics. This trend is a direct threat to academic freedom.
The United Front leverages transnational professional organizations, such as the China Association for Science and Technology and returned scholars associations, to pull in Chinese students and scholars as a labour pool for national priorities and technology development. Some of these organizations appear to be independent but are actually subordinate to the official United Front Work Department. These efforts incentivize the transfer of research to entities within China. The sheer scale at which these transfers occur makes the effort strategically significant and potentially harmful.
The United Front's strategy also seeks to gain support of foreign corporations and business interests by weaponizing China's economy, leveraging the promise of continued or expanded access to Chinese markets to persuade these corporations to pressure their governments to adopt policies friendly to the CCP's interest. This strategy also includes extensive use of traditional lobbying.
Policy responses should include a focus on increased transparency, which would also create increased awareness of funding sources and affiliations with foreign principals.
The U.S. and Canada are not alone in facing increasing Chinese influence operations. Countries around the world are experiencing the push and pull of the CCP's desire for power, influence and primacy. Australia, of course, has been a testing ground for much United Front Work activity, as has Estonia.
In February, Estonia's foreign intelligence service issued an annual report that highlighted Beijing's strong ability to conduct influence operations in the west through economic leverage, surveillance of Chinese nationals abroad and the cultivating of local elites.
We share the challenge of facing the CCP's influence operations and must all work together on effective responses.