Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Freedom House: Beijing’s Worldwide Campaign of Repression Is ‘Unparalleled’

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Rory Karsten
Rory Karsten is the penname used for a journalist working and traveling in Asia. He has been writing about the region for ten plus years with a focus on China and human rights.

China’s communist regime is conducting the most sophisticated, global, and comprehensive transnational campaign of repression in the world, says a report by U.S.-based rights watchdog Freedom House.

Released in early February, the report offers an alarming insight into how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) exports repression beyond China’s borders at an unparalleled scale.

“Due to China’s growing power internationally, its technical capacity, and its aggressive claims regarding Chinese citizens and noncitizens overseas, its campaign has a significant effect on the rights and freedoms of overseas Chinese and minority communities in exile in dozens of countries,” the report said.

“Additionally, the CCP’s use of transnational repression poses a long-term threat to rule of law systems in other countries. This is because Beijing’s influence is powerful enough to not only violate the rule of law in an individual case, but also to reshape legal systems and international norms to its interests.”

People walk through New York’s Chinatown district on July 11, 2014. (Image: Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

The report detailed how CCP efforts to pressure and control overseas Chinese plus members of minority communities are marked by three distinctive characteristics.

“First, the campaign targets many groups, including multiple ethnic and religious minorities, political dissidents, human rights activists, journalists, and former insiders accused of corruption,” said the report.

“Second, it spans the full spectrum of tactics: From direct attacks like renditions, to co-opting other countries to detain and render exiles, to mobility controls, to threats from a distance like digital threats, spyware, and coercion by proxy,” it said.  

“Third, the sheer breadth and global scale of the campaign is unparalleled. Freedom House’s conservative catalogue of direct, physical attacks since 2014 covers 214 cases originating from China, far more than any other country.”

Freedom House said that these cases are only the tip of the iceberg of much wider efforts of surveillance, harassment, and intimidation.  

The report said that this leaves many overseas Chinese and exile minorities feeling that the CCP is watching them and constraining their capacity to apply their basic rights even when living in an overseas democracy.

“All told, these tactics affect millions of Chinese and minority populations from China in at least 36 host countries across every inhabited continent,” the report said.

A Falun Gong banner with the Chinese characters for Truthfulness, Compassion, Tolerance, which are the practice’s three core principles. (Image: Jbroadcast via flickr / CC BY 2.0)

What groups are targeted?

Freedom House said that the widespread manner of the CCP’s transnational repression is a result of an extensive and ever-expanding definition of who should be subject to its extraterritorial control.

“First, the CCP targets entire ethnic and religious groups, including Uighurs, Tibetans, and Falun Gong practitioners, which together number in the hundreds of thousands globally,” the report said.

“Over the past year alone, the list of targeted populations has expanded to also include Inner Mongolians and Hong Kongers residing outside the People’s Republic of China (PRC),” it said.

“Second, China’s anticorruption drive has taken a broad, global view, targeting what may be thousands of its own former officials living abroad, now designated as alleged embezzlers.”

The report went on to describe how CCP influence has been entrenched in overseas Chinese communities.

“Third, China’s overt transnational repression activities are embedded in a broader framework of influence that encompasses cultural associations, diaspora groups, and in some cases, organized crime networks, which places it in contact with a huge population of Chinese citizens, Chinese diaspora members, and minority populations from China who reside around the world,” it said.

The report added that the CCP is using technology, including social media, in their campaign.

“Fourth, China deploys its technological prowess as part of its transnational repression toolbox via sophisticated hacking and phishing attacks,” the report said.

“One of China’s newest avenues for deploying repressive tactics overseas has been via the WeChat platform, a messaging, social media, and financial services app that is ubiquitous among Chinese users around the world, and through which the party-state can monitor and control discussion among the diaspora.”

The Chinese regime’s international clout has resulted in other nations becoming complicit in its overseas campaigns, the report pointed out.  

“Fifth, China’s geopolitical weight allows it to assert unparalleled influence over countries both near (Nepal, Thailand) and far (Egypt, Kenya). This produces leverage that the CCP does not hesitate to use against targets around the world,” the report said.

“Finally, China asserts control over non-Chinese citizens overseas, including ethnic Chinese, Taiwanese, or other foreigners, who are critical of CCP influence and human rights abuses. While not the focus of this report, China’s attempts to intimidate and control foreigners in response to their peaceful advocacy activities is an ominous trend.”

The report added that the CCP’s use of transnational repression is not new with Uyghurs, Tibetans, and Falun Gong practitioners, as well as political dissidents, having long faced systematic reprisals outside of China.

“The campaign has escalated considerably since 2014, however, and new target groups have been added in an international extension of emergent repressive campaigns within the PRC,” it said.

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