The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has a special department devoted to covertly carrying out its agenda domestically and internationally.
Called the United Front Work Department, it is technically not part of the CCP’s government structure and reports directly to the CCP’s leadership. Since 1982, a Party official from the powerful 25-member Politburo has headed the department.
Within China’s borders, the United Front subverts civil institutions, religious groups, and ethnic minority groups to coerce them to toe the Party line.
Overseas, it recruits spies and infiltrates Chinese communities to spread its propaganda and sway the opinions of local Chinese.
This agency skilled in the tactics of psychological warfare and political subversion was once named by CCP leader Mao Zedong as one of three critical weapons in the communist revolution.
Following the recent 19th National Congress, a Party conclave when the leadership undergoes a personnel reshuffle, a new official has been named as the head of the United Front, You Quan.
You Quan was the former Party boss of Fujian Province and was known for pushing relations between the province and Hong Kong, Macau, and its neighbor across the straits, Taiwan. Political observers believe his familiarity with the autonomous regions played an important role in his getting the appointment.
On Nov. 7, You made his first public appearance in his new position at a meeting with United Front staff. He gave a speech in which he emphasized “Xi Jinping thought” and the “Xi core,” making clear his loyalty to the current CCP leader.
Meanwhile, You’s predecessor, Sun Chunlan, has yet to be named to a new position.
Being a member of the Party elite who came to power when former CCP leader Jiang Zemin was in control of the Party, Sun’s future is uncertain. Jiang’s allies are still engaged in a bitter power struggle with Xi’s supporters, despite Xi winning considerable power following the national congress and appointing many of his confidants into top positions.
Sun had taken up the post after the previous head, Ling Jihua, was taken down under Xi’s anti-corruption campaign. Ling was a former top aide to Party leader Hu Jintao, and named as one of several co-conspirators loyal to former CCP leader Jiang who attempted to stage a coup targeting Xi. In 2016, he was sentenced to life imprisonment on bribery charges.
The United Front was first established by the CCP in 1942 to infiltrate intellectual circles and members of the opposing Nationalist Party, as a means to secure its win in the civil war and take over the country.
Since then, the department has fine-tuned its strategies for advancing the interests of the CCP. In the United States and elsewhere in the West, many Chinese community leaders are recruited as its underlings, organizing anti-American protests; spreading hate propaganda against Falun Gong, a spiritual practice banned and persecuted heavily in mainland China; and staging demonstrations wherever the Dalai Lama is scheduled to speak. In Australia, Chinese dissidents have been subject to harassment.
Spies often operate as members of patriot groups and student organizations for overseas Chinese, as well as Chinatown chambers of commerce and so-called “friendship associations.” Overseas Chinese-language media are also swayed into promulgating the CCP’s propaganda.
In Taiwan, the United Front tries to influence local elections, to place politicians who will do the bidding of the CCP. In Hong Kong, the department hires people to hand out flyers defaming Falun Gong.
The next time you see a pro-China protest, chances are, it’s the work of the United Front.
Zhang Dun contributed to this report.