The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has directed certain overseas Party cells to destroy sensitive documents and safeguard Party secrets, in response to heightened scrutiny in the West of the regime’s covert activities abroad, an internal document obtained by The Epoch Times reveals.
A notice issued in August by China’s state-owned oil giant China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) instructed that the company’s overseas offices in more than ten countries, including Australia and Canada, must “urgently destroy or transfer sensitive documents” relating to “overseas Party-building activities.”
Party-building activities overseas, according to New York-based China commentator Qin Peng, refers to the CCP’s efforts to expand its global influence. Under this program, Chinese consulates can instruct Chinese multinational companies to carry out tasks beyond their business operations, such as collecting intelligence, stealing sensitive information, and influencing local officials, he said.
CNPC is the world’s third-largest oil company and has operations in 75 countries, according to its website. Like most Chinese companies, the oil giant has a CCP unit embedded in its organization—to ensure the firm is toeing the Party line in its business activities. The company has more than 1.3 million employees worldwide, with almost 700,000 Party members as of 2018, according to the company’s website.
The notice said that important documents that can’t be easily destroyed may be given to the Chinese embassy in Cambodia for safekeeping.
It also directs the company’s Party members not to divulge sensitive information to local law enforcement.
“When subject to foreign investigations, Party members and cadres must abide by [the principle of] ‘strictly guarding Party secrets,’” the document said. “This is an iron rule and discipline.”
The directive was a response to recent actions by the United States and other Western governments, the document said, citing an incident in Australia where authorities searched and seized mobile phones and computers of Chinese diplomatic personnel because they contained material relating to the CCP. It did not provide further detail about this incident.
The United States has in recent months escalated efforts in combating Chinese espionage and malign influence activities. The Trump administration in July ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston, saying the diplomatic outpost was a “hub of spying and intellectual property theft.” Federal agents also made a string of arrests of suspected undercover Chinese military officers studying in the country, who prosecutors say are part of a broader network spanning 50 U.S. cities.
The regime’s covert foreign influence operations have also come under the spotlight in many democracies, particularly in Australia, where the government has stepped up actions targeting Chinese influence in politics and university campuses.
Nicholas Eftimiades, a former senior U.S. intelligence official and author of the book “Chinese Intelligence Operations,” told The Epoch Times that the incident in Australia may have referred to an unreported seizure by border officials at the country’s ports of entry, or the recent raid of a Chinese-Australian’s home as part of an investigation into Chinese foreign interference.
Australian police in June raided the home of John Zhang, a naturalized Australian citizen and an aide to a state politician, seizing materials such as computer evidence. According to court documents, Zhang was under investigation for allegedly concealing that he was acting “on behalf of, or in collaboration with” the key organs of the CCP, including the Ministry of State Security, the regime’s top intelligence agency, and the United Front Work Department, the Party branch that oversees the regime’s foreign influence operations.
The notice said the United States, the U.K., Australia, Canada, and New Zealand were “highly sensitive countries,” and directed staff in those countries to delete all Party-building materials from electronic devices and destroy physical files. Where documents can’t be destroyed, they should be “sealed and stored” in a secure location or handed over to the Chinese embassy in Cambodia, the document instructed.
In Australia and Canada, CNPC staff are to report to their local Chinese consulate the status of how they have dealt with “sensitive urgent information,” the notice said.
The document also demands that all the company’s overseas party organizations, particularly those located in Malaysia, Singapore, and Saudi Arabia, should “proactively accept the leadership role of the Party committee at Cambodia’s Chinese embassy.”
The CNPC and Chinese embassy in Cambodia did not respond to The Epoch Times’ questions as of press time.
The instructions also emphasized limiting public exposure of overseas Party activities. It prohibited events from being promoted on Chinese social media such as Weibo and WeChat, and issuing public reports of such activities. Communications about Party members or organizations, and reports on Party-building activities should be sent via encrypted channels. Party members were also banned from raising the Chinese national flag, wearing the Party badge, and displaying the content of Party activities on notice boards.
In addition, when holding Party-building activities, staff are not to disclose the identities of Party members and their Party positions, the notice said.
Eftimiades said that it’s very likely this directive was issued to other state-owned enterprises. The notice, he said, revealed an “extraordinary global operation to protect information, to restrict activities so that they don’t come up on the radar of foreign governments.”
The regime is now in “damage control,” after triggering strong reactions from Western governments over a range of behaviors, from its military aggression in the South China Sea to its border dispute with India, Eftimiades said.
Damage control entails destroying and securing evidence, while toning down activities so outside observers don’t perceive the regime as a threat, according to Eftimiades.
James Carafano, vice president of the Heritage Foundation’s institute for national security and foreign policy, said this move would not be surprising given that the regime is likely anticipating much more scrutiny from Western countries.
“If there’s one thing they’re really good at, it’s covering up their tracks,” Carafano told The Epoch Times.
The notice also reveals the close cooperation between the regime and state-owned companies, Eftimiades said.
“A huge dimension of this is the role of the consulates in directing and coordinating the activities of state-owned enterprises abroad,” he said.
The Chinese regime also publicly reveals how Chinese consulates preside over overseas Chinese companies.
A document on “risk prevention guidelines” for overseas Chinese companies, found on the website of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, points out that companies must register with their local consulates and accept their “guidance and management.”
In the event of sudden “safety-related incidents,” Chinese companies must do their public relations under the guidance of corresponding consulates and related Chinese agencies, to “positively guide the public opinion.”
In March 2019, Qi Yu, secretary of the Party committee at China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, held a meeting, during which the committee said Chinese consulates should “enhance their political understanding…in order to better serve” the Party.
While the document suggests the CCP has become more cautious, countries shouldn’t let up their guard, Qin warns, adding that as these activities go underground, the Chinese regime is likely to engage in more covert actions, and it’s a long-term threat that countries shouldn’t dismiss.