The Chinese Communist Party is providing funding support to a number of U.S.-based think tanks as means of ramping up Beijing’s covert influence and information warfare operations, a recent congressional committee report noted.
In addition, the CCP is also attempting to influence Chinese Americans primarily by touting Beijing’s political and economic agendas, the Washington Free Beacon reports.
CCP influence operations are being conducted by the United Front Work Department, which is a vehicle for the Central Committee employing tens of thousands of operatives using overt and covert operations to promote the policies of the CCP throughout the U.S.
Part of that strategy is providing payments and funding to a number of Washington think tanks with the objective of altering their actions and steering them towards adopting policies favorable to China.
“Despite the CCP’s candid discussion of its United Front Strategy, the breadth and depth of this issue remain relatively unknown to U.S. policymakers,” said the congressional report, the WFB noted.
It also said that the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, which is a major foreign policy analysis and educational institute, has gotten at some of its funding from Tung Chee-hwa, one of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference’s vice chairmen.
The party organ directs the United Front Work Department and also features a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, an authoritarian collective that essentially rules China.
The Johns Hopkins funding came from a non-profit group headed by Tung in Hong Kong — the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation, which the U.S. government says is a registered Chinese agent.
Additional think tanks receiving CCP funding include the Brookings Institution, Atlantic Council, Center for American Progress, EastWest Institute, Carter Center, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, most of the Left-leaning policy institutions.
At least one think tank, the Center for American Progress, said it has received no Chinese funding. That said, the Free Beacon added, “CAP cooperated with the U.S.-China Exchange Foundation in producing a joint report in 2014 but received no financial contribution from CUSEF.”
Analyst comment: Larry Wortzel, a former military intelligence officer once posted to China, said the committee report was important because it highlights covert intelligence operations coming from China that most Americans know nothing about, but he also added the operations were not new. “Most Americans and many members of Congress have no idea of the range of activities undertaken by this Chinese Communist Party web,” Wortzel said. “It is a form of activity by Communist parties that dates back to the days of Lenin.”
However, some lawmakers are sounding the alarm. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has been following Chinese influence operations in the U.S. for several months, including via “Confucious Institutes” on American university campuses. He has said that “Beijing seeks to outsource its messaging in part because it believes foreigners are more likely to accept propaganda if it appears to come from non-Chinese sources.”
China is also targeting American college students via 142 Chinese Students and Scholars Associations (CSSA) in the United States. Like the Confucious Institutes, CSSA is also Chinese propaganda run through various operations tied to the CCP.
As Wortzel notes, these kinds of operations by Communist countries is nothing new. Like the former Soviet Union, China is playing the long game in terms of changing ‘hearts and minds’ of Americans by reaching our youth and, principally, American youths attending higher education. Future American leaders will emerge from this demographic, and the CCP is well aware of that.
As before with the Soviets, the Chinese are targeting Left-wing organizations and academic institutions like university campuses because they offer the most accessible inroads to the American mainstream. University and college campuses are already flush with Left-thinking academics who are helping the Chinese — mostly unwittingly — accomplish their long-term objective of placing like-minded Americans in positions of power while also shifting the general public’s thinking so that most will come to view China benevolently, giving Beijing a free hand to operate in its interests regionally and globally. It’s a long-term strategy, but again, the Chinese are patient.
Similar influence operations against China cannot be undertaken by the U.S. intelligence community because China’s people and access to information is so tightly regulated.
How successful Beijing will be ultimately depends on how many American lawmakers and policymakers — and American citizens — can be alerted to the danger and move to counteract it.