How China Organizes Politically Motivated Campaigns to Achieve Its Domestic, Foreign Strategic Goals

May 25, 2020 Updated: June 22, 2020


China is a country with a political system unlike any other. Since taking power in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has perfected its strategy, tactics, systems, and mechanisms for staying in power and achieving its political goals.

The secret of its success is the establishment of two mechanisms.

The first is to ensure the CCP’s absolute control of every part of the government and society. It serves as the foundation for the other mechanism to be possible and effective.

A Government of the CCP

For those who aren’t familiar with China’s political system, the relationship between the CCP and the Chinese government is confusing.

China’s constitution states that the country and government are led by the CCP, with the guiding principles of Marxism, Leninism, and Mao Zedong Thought. In other words, the CCP has absolute power over the Chinese government.

In fact, the Chinese government is the CCP and the CCP is the Chinese government.

To implement its control, the CCP ensures that each level and each branch of both the central and local governments has a CCP committee member and chairperson, who have the final say on all decisions. In some cases, the head of an agency is also the Party committee secretary.

Starting at the top, the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Central Committee are the ultimate decision-makers of the CCP. This group is led by the general secretary of the CCP, Xi Jinping, who is also the chairman of the People’s Republic of China, and more importantly, the chairman of the Central Military Commission, because China’s constitution demands the military be loyal only to the CCP, not to any other political party or the Chinese people.

Among the other six members, Li Keqiang and Han Zheng are the premier and first vice premier, respectively, of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China; they are the chief administrative authorities of China. They make sure the government’s power and resources will serve the needs of the Party before it serves the country and the people.

Li Zhangshu chairs the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, which is the legislative organ of China. He makes sure this body legitimizes policies put in place by the CCP, and ensures that any proposed legislation by its CCP-selected members in the National People’s Congress doesn’t conflict with CCP policies.

Wang Yang is the chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, where, again, the CCP has selected the non-CCP members or members of the so-called democratic parties approved by the CCP. Therefore, the CCP is able to tell the world that it respects the opinions of members of other political parties or independents, and they are all in 100 percent support of its policies.

The CCP officials also run seemingly independent organizations such as the All-China Trade Unions, All-China Women’s Federation, All-China Youth Federation, All-China  Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese, and many others. Every neighborhood has a committee of the CCP that monitors the activities of the residents. So it actually controls not only the government but also the entire society, communities, and individuals.

Zhao Leji is the leader of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), which is the highest body that presides over internal control over the CCP by maintaining rules and fighting corruption and malfeasance within the Party. The deputy of the CCDI is also the head of the Ministry of Supervision (MOS), and therefore, gives the CCDI natural control of the disciplinary function of the government. In fact, they are merged, housed in the same offices and sharing the same website. The CCDI has imprisoned thousands of party leaders and business icons in the past five years for the alleged crimes of corruption and political disloyalty, many of whom have purportedly committed suicide.

Wang Huning, known as an ideological architect for the past three CCP secretaries-general, is the chairman of the Central Guidance Commission for Building the Spiritual Civilization. This is the most important ideological steering body of the CCP and its government. This “spiritual civilization” is based on the ideology of socialism and communism. It controls nationwide propaganda and ideological dissemination, overlapping another similar body, the Leading Small Group for Propaganda and Ideological Work.

Wang chairs both the commission and the leading group responsible for propaganda and oversees the CCP Propaganda Department.

An identical structure of CCP leadership in the government goes all the way down to the lowest level of the government and corner of society. The Chinese government is truly a government of the CCP, and by the CCP, for the CCP.

Therefore, when you think you are simply partnering with a Chinese business, institution, or any level of the Chinese government, you are, in fact, partnering with the CCP.

Leading Small Groups

While the first mechanism is to maintain absolute control of the country, the second mechanism is to use leading small groups (LSGs), the CCP’s innovation, to achieve politically motivated domestic and foreign strategic goals.

The LSGs are set up to better coordinate multi-departmental efforts, mobilize national resources, and overcome bureaucratic barriers. They are normally led by the highest-ranking CCP leaders that the project requires and, therefore, have power over existing government departments and agencies.

While Xi personally heads eight LSGs, the leadership of the LSGs generally appears to be spread among Politburo members and the State Council members, based on their official regulatory responsibilities and irrespective of the individuals’ factional leanings.

LSGs have centralized authority over normal governance and resources allocated beyond the documented government budget. They don’t have to document what they do and can give oral instructions to carry out the orders from CCP top leaders without being restricted by the existing laws and regulations. LSGs are above the law.

For example, when Mao wanted to get rid of his political rivals, he formed a Great Cultural Revolution Leading Group, led by his wife and other trusted associates. The leading group was able to turn the government upside down, shut down schools and colleges, and persecute intellectual and political leaders Mao disliked, including Liu Shaoqi, then the chairman of China, the second-ranking CCP leader.

A more recent example is the CCP’s so-called Central Committee’s Leading Group of Prevention and Elimination of Evil Cults. Its office, known as the 610 Office, has carried out a 21-year persecution of practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual practice advocating truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance, as well as meditation and healthy lifestyles.

The committee has reportedly tortured millions in labor camps, jailed people arbitrarily, used drugs and other methods of mental abuse, and condoned forced organ harvesting for profit; it has killed thousands or possibly millions of practitioners. It’s said that it spent a quarter of China’s GDP to maintain its operations domestically and internationally, simply because Jiang Zemin, the former secretary-general of the CCP, insisted that the practice of Falun Gong practice was a threat to the rule of communism in China.

Ironically, some leaders of the 610 Office had so much power and resources that some of them were imprisoned because they became a threat to the CCP leader’s authority.

The use of LSGs is one of the perfected tactics that CCP leaders use when a strategic plan needs to be executed.

LSG for Promoting Chinese Language

On July 24, 1987, the CCP decided to set up the National Leading Small Group of International Promotion of Chinese Language (NLSGIPCL), consisting of leaders from the Ministry of Education, the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council, the Foreign Affairs Office of the State Council, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the State Language Commission, Beijing Language and Culture University, and the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television of the People’s Republic of China.

In 1998, leaders from the Ministry of Finance, the National Development and Reform Commission, and the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation were added.

People may wonder how teaching the Chinese language to people outside China has become such an important strategic task that it warranted the setup of an LSG.

It’s understandable that more and more people outside of China are interested in learning Chinese. since China is open to doing business with anyone the CCP sees fit.

However, there are enough teachers and educational institutions from China, Taiwan, and other countries that can accommodate the need for learning Chinese for people outside China. The free exchange of students and scholars would be sufficient to achieve the goal.

However, the CCP government saw the promotion of Chinese language in other countries as an opportunity to increase its political and cultural influence, and potentially other functions, including managing international opinions on its domestic policies and human rights practices. Two U.S. government investigative reports provide details of the intention and function of the CCP promoting Chinese language teaching in the United States.

Its importance became more obvious when Hu Jintao, then the CCP secretary-general, attended the signing ceremony of a collaboration agreement between the Indonesian government and the Chinese regime on Chinese language teaching programs in 2005.

Li Changchun was at one time the fifth-highest-ranking member of the Politburo Standing Committee. According to The Economist, Li said that Confucius Institutes are “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up.”

New Leadership of LSG for Promoting Chinese

In 2006, the State Council announced the new leadership of the LSG with higher-ranking officials led by Chen Zhili, a state counselor, a position equivalent to vice premier.

Chen’s former posts in Shanghai included secretary of the CCP committee of Shanghai Science and Technology Commission, director of the propaganda department of Shanghai, and vice secretary of the CCP Shanghai Committee.

In 1998, she became the minister of education. In 2003, she was further elevated to the position of state councilor, in charge of education, culture, and sports. In March of 2008, Chen was elected to become the vice chairperson of the National People’s Congress. Chen was an alternate member of the 13th and 14th Central Committees and a full member of 15th, 16th, and 17th Central Committees of the CCP.

Zhou Jie, the vice director of the leading group, is the minister of education, and a full member of the 17th and 18th Central Committees of the CCP. During Zhou’s tenure, the education system in China was wrought with academic dishonesty and corruption. Furthermore, he was unpopular because he introduced 16 “officially sanctioned” educational Peking Opera numbers that had underlying themes similar to those during the Cultural Revolution. He also was responsible for shutting down a communication platform known as a BBS (bulletin board system) in the university campus to control free expression.

The NLSGIPCL’s executive office is known as Hanban, or Confucius Institute headquarters, managed by the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China. It’s clearly not-for-profit, but also not an NGO, as it claims.

The sole mission of the Confucius Institute (CI) headquarters, or Hanban, is to install a CCP-founded Chinese language and culture center or program inside universities, colleges, and high schools around the world. These centers, named Confucius Institutes or Classrooms, follow regulations set up by the CI headquarters in Beijing and use the same logo and brand.

The Leading Small Group of International Promotion of Chinese Language sees CIs as effective vehicles for achieving its strategic goal, by selecting, training, and hiring instructors, designing the curriculum and textbooks, selecting co-directors—often one Chinese and one faculty from the hosting institution—and demanding that the joint venture follow the laws of China as well as the hosting country. By collaborating with a hosting university, CIs are legitimized and their true missions are disguised.

The American Association of University Professors expressed concern with the program, and in June 2014, the group issued a statement announcing the end of the collaboration with CIs. It argued that the only way CIs could continue would be if the universities could have full control of the academic affairs, “that the teachers in Confucius Institutes can have the same academic freedom enjoyed by other university faculty members, and that the agreements between universities and Confucius Institutes are available to the community.”

None of these conditions are possible as they eliminate the reasons for the CIs to exist, from the CCP perspective.

In August 2014, Xu Lin, director-general of Hanban and chief executive of CIs worldwide, ordered her staff to rip pages referring to Taiwanese academic institutions from the published program for the European Association for Chinese Studies conference in Braga, Portugal, claiming the materials were “contrary to Chinese regulations.” Her behavior, which reflected the true colors of the CCP strategy, was described by The Wall Street Journal as a “bullying approach to academic freedom.”

Peter Chang, a Chinese political and economic expert living in New York, told The Epoch Times that the Confucius Institute in Stockholm University, in place since 2005 and the first CI in Europe, failed to block his appointment as a visiting scholar at the university because faculty members protested. That CI was closed in 2015.

Confucius, the Person

Apparently, even the CCP believes that Confucius has a better reputation than the Party. Hanban decided to call its program “Confucius Institutes” in colleges and “Confucius Classrooms” in high schools or middle schools, making them a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Confucius, a symbol of traditional Chinese culture and the founder of Confucianism, was a Chinese philosopher and politician who lived from 551 BC to 479 BC. A traditional deity in Daoism, he espoused the values of familial loyalty including filial piety and respect between husbands and wives, and advocated using the family structure as a foundation for the government. The well-known principle “do not do unto others what you do not want done to yourself” can be attributed to Confucius and his teachings.

Confucius’s teachings had an indelible effect on shaping the culture and mindset of humanity throughout time.

CCP ideology has never been in line with Confucianism. The CCP believes in unlimited use of violence, propaganda, and political war to achieve its version of communism through absolute power. Mao perceived Confucianism in the Chinese mind as an obstacle for his political ambitions and launched a campaign against Confucianism during the Cultural Revolution while trying to destroy traditional Chinese culture.

Today, Xi Jinping, the CCP’s paramount leader, is defending Mao’s actions and forbids people to speak negatively about the Cultural Revolution, which proved to be disastrous for China.

Naturally, CIs aren’t allowed to exist inside China. But outside China, CIs mushroomed around the world, financed with billions of dollars.

Confucius Institutes in the United States

According to the National Association of Scholars (NAS), the Chinese regime has executed the Confucius Institute project since 2004, starting in Seoul, South Korea. The CIs offer Chinese language and culture courses at colleges and universities around the world—including more than 100 in the United States at one point.

A bipartisan report by a U.S. Senate Homeland Security subcommittee analyzed the role of the CIs as a part of China’s effect on the U.S. education system. In the panel’s findings, it was confirmed that Hanban has ubiquitous control and censorship over CIs, which makes it an ultimate threat to academic freedom in the United States. Nearly every aspect of the CIs is vetted, controlled, and overseen by Hanban, which acts as a proxy for the Chinese regime.

These CI’s are ultimately beholden to the Chinese regime, which uses the institute to exercise its soft power, which is described by the NAS as an “attempt to persuade people toward a compliant attitude, rather than coerce conformity.”

To execute that, Hanban will typically provide funds to help set up the CI, with monetary support and control coming in the form of vetting instructors and determining salaries, providing annual and initial start-up funds, and even choosing educational materials. Between 2006 and 2016, the Hanban was reported to have spent more than $2 billion on CIs. That ensures that each CI will be run exactly how the CCP directs, as it controls every aspect from the funding to the people to the exact coursework.

The report also demonstrated that many U.S. colleges failed to accurately disclose how much money they had received from the Chinese regime, which was reported to have spent more than $158 million on schools in the United States since 2006. Many colleges didn’t reveal that they had accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from China even after Education Department guidance that requires reporting of foreign gifts.

“Current law requires all post-secondary schools to biannually report funding provided by a foreign entity valued at more than $250,000. Nearly seventy percent of U.S. schools with a Confucius Institute that received more than $250,000 in one year failed to properly report that information to the Department of Education,” the report states.

The operational regulation of CIs clearly states that CIs in the United States need to adhere to the laws and regulations of China as well. The teachers must love China and have a “strong faith” in an unstated belief system, and are required to receive training in addition to their academic competence.

In addition, the Chinese regime has repeatedly failed to comply with J-1 visa terms for the instructors sent to the United States as a part of the CI program; J-1 visas, which are for non-immigrants, are issued to professors and research scholars who are participating in a cultural exchange program. There are a few types of J-1 visas, and the problems found had to do with the professor and research scholar visas. In 2018, the State Department revoked 32 of these visas for CI teachers who weren’t conducting research, as is required by the program, but were teaching at K−12 schools instead.

“The State Department also found evidence that one Confucius Institute Chinese director improperly coached the teachers to discuss their research during interviews with State Department investigators,” according to the Senate report detailing the role of China on the American education system.

The State Department doesn’t collect information on the specifics of these visa applicants and therefore, can’t properly manage and ensure proper use. In other words, the State Department has no idea if any variant of a J-1 visa is sought out by someone in China affiliated with the CI—an affiliation that historically hasn’t properly complied with the requirements of the visa.

“American politicians, China analysts, and the national security establishment are in broad agreement that China is waging a massive spying campaign against the United States,” NPR has reported. “The targets include classified government and military secrets, high-tech companies, and university research.”

Although no CIs in the United States have been charged with any wrongdoing, they are clearly positioned to offer the platform for espionage as needed.

There also is no reciprocity offered by China for any U.S. exchange institute.

In 2010, the State Department gave $5.1 million in grants to establish 29 American Cultural Centers (ACCs) in China to promote U.S. “culture, society, government, language, law, economic center, and values.” While the two programs may seem to have similar missions, the ACCs can be distinguished from CIs in that they don’t vet instructors or coursework, nor do they censor “inappropriate” topics as CIs do.

The Chinese regime has “directly interfered with U.S. diplomacy efforts in China,” with 80 documented instances in the past four years. For instance, one school in China outright refused to open an ACC in their school, and a U.S. official told colleagues in an email that they believed the CCP had a hand in the interference.

“This is a typical Chinese political euphemism. Obviously, [the Chinese University] was instructed by [the Ministry of Education] not to proceed with our proposal.”

If an ACC institute did open in a partner Chinese school, every event would have to be approved by the host school, which, in many cases, would prevent events from being held. The ACC wasn’t allowed to host a play that detailed the life of Muhammad Ali, nor was it allowed to hold a lecture series discussing policies that affected Americans.

As of September 2019, NAS counted a total of 89 CIs in the United States including “81 Confucius Institutes at American colleges and universities, 1 Confucius Institute at a private educational organization, the China Institute, and 7 Confucius Institutes at K-12 public school districts.”

Confucius Institute Closings

A growing number of universities that once partnered with China on CIs are severing ties and closing these institutions. As of September 2019, 27 CIs have closed in the United States.

The first notable closure was at the University of Chicago in 2014, which stated that an offensive email from Hanban’s director general, Xu Lin, made the partnership “incompatible.” Pennsylvania State University followed suit and closed their CI a few weeks later, stating that “several of our goals are not consistent with those of the Office of Chinese Languages Council International, known as the Hanban, which provides support to Confucius Institutes throughout the world.”

Following suit, Indiana University, the University of Oregon, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Rhode Island have severed ties with CIs after the U.S. Department of Defense announced that, due to “national interest” concerns, it would cease funding for Chinese language programs at universities that housed CIs.

Other schools, such as North Carolina State University and the University of North Florida, have stated that their mission and goals no longer aligned with those of the CIs and closed their programs. Some have replaced CIs and expressed plans to create their own Chinese language and culture curriculum.

It would be interesting to find out how these U.S. universities and schools were identified and approached by the CCP in the first place, who in these American universities made the decision to collaborate with Hanban, and what they have received in return from the CCP.

It also would be interesting to know why, even amid all of the issues raised with the establishment of CIs and the government’s notice to cease funding, the other CIs in the United States remain open.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.