Increasingly, those who protest in the West for human rights in China are spied, harassed, and sometimes even beaten by overseas Chinese loyal to the Party.
by Ma Yingjie
Protests supporting Tibetans and Uyghurs have significantly increased in Western countries, where expressions of global outrage against China’s oppressive behaviour have intensified. The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) human rights violations have attracted increasing attention, especially from international human rights groups, thus leading to greater advocacy to protect minorities in China.
These protests, however, are being stifled and disrupted by members of the Chinese diaspora both in Europe and in the U.S. From constant threats to protesters to directly intimidating those who raise concerns, the CCP has outsourced its regressive crackdown to its diaspora overseas.
CCP’s strategies to threaten international protesters
Apart from discouraging protests through brute force, the Chinese intelligence agencies are also recruiting agents that would source vital information on protesters. Reports of these agents gathering phone numbers, vehicle plates, addresses, and photographs have emerged across all the Western world. Some of the cases that have come forward have also indicated the recruitment of Tibetans and Uyghurs living abroad, promising visa approvals to visit their native lands, accompanied by threats against their family members back home.
Furthermore, Beijing’s efforts have become far more sophisticated in curbing dissent overseas. By not only controlling the Chinese diasporas in the Western world but also intimidating others who join protests against the CCP’s human rights violations, the Party has substantially expanded its transnational influence in the past few years.
According to several studies conducted in the West, the cases of physical assaults have also risen against those who protest the repression of minorities in China. Physical attacks in the past decade against protesters have largely originated from Chinese agents, making the Party a direct culprit in violence against human rights protesters. The perpetrators, in these cases, have mostly been members of the Chinese diaspora who have publicly voiced their support for the CCP.
Methods of CCP intimidation, from finance to technology
The CCP’s growing technological powers have also been weaponized to threaten those who are seeking to expose the barbaric strategies the Party has deployed against minorities in the country. China’s financial influence has played a large part in preventing governments to protest on such matters, both bilaterally and on international platforms. As part of the 51st session of the Human Rights Council, several member states presented a motion seeking a debate about human rights in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which was eventually defeated, with all the nineteen states having signed Belt and Road Initiative agreements voting against the motion. Although defeated, the motion enabled many to understand the leverage Beijing is using on all its development partners to prevent international debates on its human rights violations.
The Party has also deployed various measures to prevent dissent globally. These “influence operations,” as they are called, have various strategical dimensions. Firstly, they identify as targets a specific set of individuals, depending on their track record of voicing their dissent against the Party’s oppressive approach to minorities in China. Secondly, these strategies use a wide range of measures including coercive techniques such as cyberattacks and cyber-bullying. The recent “overseas police stations” that came up as a matter of debate in international media a few months ago are a significant part of the very same strategy of intimidating those in the Chinese diaspora who resist the Party’s rhetoric claiming that minority groups are not oppressed in China.
As part of its transnational strategies, China tries to convert its international diaspora into the CCP’s foremost flagbearer. Such attempts must be contained before they escalate to curb civil rights of peaceful citizens living in the host countries. Hence, Western countries that seek to safeguard their own citizens’ rights should not only prevent China’s coercive strategies but also push for greater debate regarding these devious tactics on global platforms. The dual strategy of prevention of coercion along with raising a louder voice against China’s human rights violations is the key to restricting the CCP from projecting its global vision, which is embedded in oppression against dissenters, not only within its own country but also transnationally.
Countries that prioritize human rights should work together to counter Beijing’s blatant misuse of its global status and call for a more responsible international behaviour towards China than the one we are currently witnessing.