23 April 2020

The Chinese diaspora under surveillance

The Chinese Communist Party seeks a greater role for China in global politics. This has led to increased pressure on the Chinese diaspora worldwide, both among ethnic Chinese who are loyal to the Communist Party and those in opposition, according to the FOI report, The Chinese Communist Party and the Diaspora.

Chinese protesters

Hong Kong Protest and Counter-Protest in Vancouver, British Columbia / Canada in August 18 2019. Photo: Eric Kukulowicz/Shutterstock.

40-60 million ethnic Chinese reside outside China. The Chinese Communist Party considers these overseas Chinese to be part of China, regardless of whether they are citizens of China or some other country. This is not unlike what we see for example in India, which also has a large diaspora. But India is a democracy and does not regard its diaspora as a potential threat, nor does it have any ambition to control it in the way authoritarian regimes try to.

The Chinese Communist Party perceives two groups among the diaspora. One group is regarded as loyal.

“The party is trying to mobilise these potentially patriotic overseas Chinese as counter-demonstrators, for example in demonstrations for freedom in Hong Kong or Tibet. We observe this in countries such as Australia, the USA, and Canada, where there are major diaspora, with some groups that have connections to the party,” explains the report’s author, Oscar Almén, China analyst at FOI.

The Communist Party considers another part of the diaspora to be a potential threat.

“They are assumed to be striving for political change in China, such as democratisation or freedom for the Xinjiang region. Many of these people have been subjected to spying and coercion, and their relatives in China may face punishment. There are examples of Chinese students in universities in the US who promote the Communist Party’s issues and in some cases have made Chinese who aren’t connected to the party feel threatened.”

Undermining of international law

According to FOI’s report, China does not hesitate to break international law by seizing ethnic Chinese who are citizens of other countries and abducting them to China. The Swedish publisher, Gui Minhai, who was abducted from Thailand to China, is one example. Even if China outwardly recognises international law on the basis of citizenship, there is an unofficial view of who is “Chinese,” based on bloodlines and ethnicity.

“That view of who belongs to the Chinese nation can undermine international law, and by extension entails that other countries may be unable to guarantee the security of their own citizens.”

Taiwanese citizens are also being subjected to greater pressure today.

“When Tsai Ing-wen, who is striving for greater freedom from Mainland China, was elected president, China began to demand the extradition to China of Taiwanese who were accused of telephone fraud abroad. And many Taiwanese were extradited, often from countries with strong economic ties to China, such as Kenya. But Spain has also extradited criminally-charged Taiwanese to China,” says Oscar Almén.

Cooperation essential for carrying out countermeasures

The report highlights several countermeasures.

“What’s most important is to not accept the Communist Party’s notion that they represent all of China. It’s necessary to keep track of what the Party does and deal with the problems that arise when pressure is being directed at the Chinese diaspora. It is also vital to cooperate, not least within EU. Gui Minhai is a good example. It’s difficult for Sweden to pursue this question on its own, but, ultimately, this isn’t an issue that just concerns Sweden.”

“The Communist Party has acted in new ways in recent years. The imprisonment of Gui Minhai and the pressure on Hong Kong represent two examples of a more expansive Chinese foreign policy. This makes it important to understand what lies behind this behaviour.”

The Swedish Ministry of Defence commissioned the report.