Assessing the Resiliency of the Chinese Communist Party

Posted on Wednesday, March 21, 2018 by Drew Jones

(Source: Congressional Research Service | Central News Agency)

Watch a video of the conference here.

By: Emily David and Gary Wang

At the 19th Party Congress in Beijing, Chinese leaders projected an image of China (People's Republic of China, PRC) as a strong and united country destined to become a new global leader. However, the extraordinary measures undertaken to control information, assembly, and capital outflows suggest the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) may be weaker than it appears. China, under the rule of the CCP, has denied its people their natural rights, including freedoms of assembly, thought, and expression. Since the late 1970s, the PRC leadership has pursued a policy of "reform and opening" that has advanced the Chinese economy, while ensuring the Party's continued monopoly on all forms of political power. The 13th National Party Congress' ratification of the abolished presidential term limit is the latest and most consequential move aimed at ensuring General Secretary Xi Jinping's all-encompassing rule. This ideologically retrograde path has resulted in considerable tensions within Chinese society. As China continues to emerge as a globally-interconnected power, questions have arisen regarding the trajectory of its political system. While much discussion in Washington has focused on the future of U.S.-PRC relations, it is imperative to assess the resiliency of China's party-state apparatus, and to examine its implications for U.S. interests in the future.

Conference on the Resiliency of the CCP

On October 12, 2017, the Project 2049 Institute hosted a conference that brought together a distinguished group of experts to address the potentially tenuous nature of the CCP's hold on power, and what that could mean for the future of the regime, the United States, and Asia. The first panel discussed the resiliency of the Party today, and its efforts to thwart any attempts at subversion. The second panel evaluated a potential future collapse scenario of the Chinese Communist Party, and what it might mean for the United States, and for our allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific.

(Left to Right: Richard McGregor, Nadège Rolland, Rachael Burton, David Gitter, and Yang Jianli Source: The Project 2049 Institute)

The CCP and Its Standing Today

In assessing the strength of the Party, it is clear that the PRC, with Chairman Xi Jinping at the helm, is under the control of a resilient, authoritarian communist party. Xi Jinping’s authority can be characterized as strongman leadership, distinguished by five major trends. First, Xi is the "Chairman of everything" from national security to economic policy. Second, Xi has created a new national security system within the Party apparatus rather than the government. Third, the State Council, which is crucial to the execution of policies, is the weakest it has been in generations. Fourth, there has been a massive purge and re-organization of the People's Liberation Army (PLA). And fifth, Xi has directed a sweeping anti-corruption campaign that has largely been utilized to remove Xi's personal political opponents.

With Xi Jinping’s legacy cemented as "the core" leader of the Party, he has used his position to strengthen the party-state's role in the economy. Given that an autocratic style does not lend itself to economic liberalization, the Party functions of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) under Xi’s leadership are more open and explicit. This has lead to economic and corporate structures that have created a distinct hybrid model of capitalism. As the private sector remains a crucial driver of economic growth and job creation, the CCP has co-opted the private sector to ensure that the entrepreneurial class does not become a rival to the CCP.

The overall course emerging from Xi's China is a more public role for the Party, and a bolstered relationship between the Party, the government, and the private sector. On the whole, it is clear that the Party is extremely resilient at this current point in time. 

The CCP's Propaganda Apparatus

The CCP's propaganda apparatus plays an important role in promoting CCP resiliency, whose role divides into three tasks: transmitting the Party's guiding ideology, transmitting the CCP's line and policies, and educating the public in patriotism, collectivism, and socialism.  In a likely effort to stave off the risk of fragmentation, Xi unveiled a new set of policy guidelines to ensure the media reflects the Party’s will, and safeguards the Party’s authority and unity.

At the center of the propaganda apparatus is the socialist core value system that emphasizes principles such as prosperity, democracy, civility, freedom, rule of law, and patriotism, as defined by the Party. Xi has emphasized the integration of core socialist values into every aspect of Chinese society as an important element of "cultural soft power." However, a challenge the CCP faces is the impetus behind Party membership. Currently, most Party members join to improve their own status and self interest, rather than out of ideological adherence or Party loyalty, which exposes an ideological vacuum in Chinese society and in the Party itself. Whether or not Party members will be willing to weather a crisis or a democratic uprising will play a part in determining the Party's future. As for now, the propaganda apparatus continues to target domestic and foreign audiences to reinforce the role of the Party in this "new era."  

CCP Global Influence 

China's “One Belt, One Road" Initiative (OBOR) is a political and national strategy of the CCP that provides solutions to many of the challenges that China faces as a one-Party state. Since China no longer enjoys the double-digit economic growth that formerly buttressed CCP legitimacy, OBOR presents  a “new normal” that satisfies the Party’s need for socio-economic stability, nationalist goals, and a solution to address overall strategic objectives.

Economically, OBOR allows the CCP to maintain state control over the economy, and to sustain its manufacturing and production industries, therefore providing the continual economic growth necessary to sustain CCP resiliency. Strategically, OBOR is a foreign policy tool that helps to secure trade routes, and carves areas for potential political influence through infrastructure projects (dams, fiber optics, highways, etc.). Domestically, it works to reduce development gaps and provincial disparities, diminish social unrest, and discourage radicalization and terrorism. Internationally, OBOR limits democratic institutions along China’s borders, and reduces the risk of democratic contagion, and the CCP's branding and messaging of OBOR works to raise China’s status as a great power and provider of public goods. It also allows China to take the lead on global initiatives that are widely recognized as having the potential for far-reaching global impact. However, diverted wealth, economic overstretch, and conflicts in recipient countries are just a few potential challenges impeding the success of China’s OBOR strategy. Additionally, the success of OBOR will largely rest on recipient countries' perception of China’s plans.

Chinese Democracy Movement vs. the CCP

While much media coverage is spent forecasting the trajectory of “China’s rise,” the state of citizen’s rights in China have continued to deteriorate under the CCP with crackdowns on media, religious groups, and civil society. Under the current political climate, monitoring how the CCP responds to domestic tension deserves attention. Drawing from China’s 1989 democracy movement, there are four conditions integral to affect real democratic change in China: 1) a general and robust discontent from the people, 2) a viable democratic opposition, 3) a split in the CCP leadership, and 4) international recognition and support when a movement materializes.

While not successful, the Tiananmen democracy movement ultimately created fear among the top echelon of Party officials because it called into question the legitimacy of the regime. As such, the Movement forced the CCP to recognize that the Party's staying power in the 90s had nothing to do with communist ideals; instead, economic growth and nationalism became the dominant sources of CCP legitimacy. Later in 2008, Liu Xiaobo and 300 other Chinese intellectuals and human rights activists authored the Charter 08 document, which called for a "modernization" of Chinese society built on a new constitution, separation of powers, legislative democracy, and the freedom to assemble (to name a few). The Charter was deemed a "subversion of state power." Now, with Xi Jinping as Chairman, there has been a significant shift in leadership style; the Party’s role in Chinese society has been repurposed, and has had three major effects on China: 1) the CCP is more ideological and authoritarian, 2) the country's elites are potentially alienated due to the restructuring of “crony capitalism,” and 3) no one social strata provides Xi with vehement public support. So, while there are definite cracks in the Party's resiliency, the potential for the emergence of a contemporary democratic movement does not pose an immediate threat to the CCP.  

Future Scenario: An Asia without the CCP?

(Left to Right: Kuniko Ashizawa, Emily David, Mark Stokes, and Peter Mattis. Source: The Project 2049 Institute)

The CCP's Security Apparatus

At its foundation, the CCP is a security organization aimed at shaping itself and the outside world. China's security organizations serve the top-level leaders, and, therefore, are the instruments through which power is exercised and competed for. Given that security, according to the CCP, ultimately hinges on social order and Party management, it is advantageous for the CCP to incorporate entities such as the Propaganda Department, the Organization Department, the Political Legal Commission, and the People's Liberation Army (PLA), etc. into the core of the state security apparatus structure. Although the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) and the Ministry of State Security (MSS) are State Council organizations, they are also meant to serve the Party. Together, China's security organizations serve primarily as a tool of the Party against outsiders. For its part, the PLA is the armed wing of the CCP that oversees the armed forces and the paramilitary People's Armed Police (PAP), which both have propaganda and political warfare missions. As such, since the PLA is the final arbiter, the key question in the rise or fall of the CCP is based upon the PLA's disposition to defend the Party against the people. However, the additional entities in China's security apparatus exist to ensure that the PLA never has to make that choice. They serve as a buffer between the PLA and the Party, to guarantee that a viable opposition never comes to fruition. Taken together, the future of China largely depends on the loyalty and effectiveness of the CCP’s collective security apparatus.

Regional Implications: Addressing a China in Political Transition  

In the case of a collapse of the Chinese Communist Party, what would a regional response entail?

Taiwan could play five potential roles including that of a model or influencer, scapegoat, stakeholder, and stabilizer. First, Taiwan plays a unique role in serving as both a model and influencer for China. The CCP often perpetuates the narrative that Chinese culture is inconsistent with democracy, but Taiwan, as a different yet fundamentally Chinese society, directly belies this fact. Taiwan has made the sensitive transition to a democratic state, and can serve as an example for political transition in China. Second, Taiwan can serve as an economic stabilizer for the country and region. A significant portion of China's GDP can be attributed to Taiwanese enterprises, and, as such, Taiwan can be one of the most significant outside players to ensure China's sustained economic growth in the event of regime instability. Third, the CCP can use Taiwan as a scapegoat to divert attention from domestic instability or criticism of the Party. Fourth, Taiwan could act as a stakeholder. Taiwan's substantial investments in China, along with over one million Taiwanese living in China, gives Taiwan's government significant motivation to play an active role in an international response to the collapse of the CCP, were it to occur. And, fifth, Taiwan could take the role of stabilizer. Another major consideration in a CCP collapse scenario should be the control of fissile material and nuclear warheads. Due to historical and cultural ties to the PRC, Taiwan is best suited to work with parties and organizations inside China to secure these materials.

In terms of a regional response to the potential collapse of the CCP, the role of the world's third largest economy would be difficult to ignore. Japan has historically been a stakeholder in the event of a collapsed Chinese state (fall of the Qing Dynasty), but its physical, political, economic, and military expansion into China came at great consequence to the people in the region. However, in the aftermath of the Tiananmen democracy movement, when the CCP appeared most vulnerable, Japan was the first of the G7 countries to lift economic sanctions and resume diplomatic channels. Taking history into account, in a future collapse scenario, Japan could offer limited diplomatic or economic engagement in selective regions in China. This new initiative could act as a network―with an emphasis to support Chinese citizenry, civil society, and private industry― linking the coastal cities of China to Japan, and to other states in the Asia-Pacific.


The Chinese Communist Party under Xi Jinping is broadly resilient, determined, and strong. Through the use of reforms within the propaganda and security apparatus, China is experiencing widespread state control over society. Internationally, OBOR serves to offset many of the Party's existing challenges, and appears to amplify its position on the world stage. Yet, despite all of this, an authoritarian power that denies its people basic rights of free expression, religion, and assembly is never exempt from possible dissolution, and there are many cracks within the Party's current façade. In the event that China's one-party rule is dismantled, Taiwan, and other regional stakeholders such as Japan, South Korea, and ASEAN, all have a role to play in stabilizing the region through China's political transition. In this regard, the resiliency of the CCP is therefore a priority for Xi Jinping. Under his leadership, the strengthened position of the CCP's propaganda and security apparatus ensure the continued "fighting spirit" necessary to exercise strict governance over the People's Republic of China.  
Emily David is a Research Associate at the Project 2049 Institute where her research focuses on the Chinese Communist Party, Chinese influence operations, and U.S.-Taiwan relations. She recently completed her Master's degree in Chinese Politics, Foreign Policy, and International Relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China.
Gary Wang was an intern at the Project 2049 Institute where his research focused on cross-Strait relations and U.S.-Taiwan relations. He is currently pursing his BA at George Washington University.

Under the Radar: China's Coercive Air Power in the Taiwan Strait

Posted on Friday, March 9, 2018 by Project2049Institute

(Source: Congressional Research Service | Central News Agency)
Watch a video of the conference here.

By: Colby Ferland

On January 4, 2018, the People’s Republic of China (PRC, China) unilaterally modified an aviation route near the centerline of the Taiwan Strait. The northbound routes on this M503 flight path violate the existing cross-Strait civil aviation agreements between each side’s respective authorities. Taiwan, and many members of the international community, view this as a coercion tactic by Beijing to limit Taiwan’s ability to operate effectively near its borders on matters of national security. Further complicating the matter is Taiwan’s exclusion from international organizations, such as the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO), which limits Taipei’s ability to voice its concerns without the assistance of informal allies. The move is part of Beijing’s long-term plan of forcing Taipei to the negotiation table on unfavorable terms. More alarming, however, are the implications for the future of airspace security in Taiwan, as well as America’s ability to exercise freedom of navigation around the island. In response to this occurrence, the Project 2049 Institute brought together a distinguished panel of security experts to flesh out the PRC’s coercive airspace management, Taiwan’s security, and implications for U.S. interests.

Is China's Taiwan Strategy Failing?

It is likely that China's decision to adjust air routes in the Taiwan Strait was a military stratagem made with the specific objective of encroaching on Taiwanese airspace. Beijing’s unilateral authorization of northbound flights on the M503 route is not, as China’s State Air Traffic Control Commission (SATCC) claims, a civilian measure taken to relieve air traffic congestion. This is evident by the fact that the SATCC resides under the jurisdiction of the Central Military Commission (CMC), led by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This is a textbook example of Chinese influence operations aimed at coercing and limiting Taipei's political leverage vis-à-vis Beijing. The M503 route is Beijing’s latest endeavor to coerce President Tsai Ing-wen  蔡英文 of Taiwan (Republic of China, ROC) to adhere to the 1992 Consensus, and, thus, the one-China principle, as defined by Beijing. This, however, would be a major move of concession for Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and Beijing’s pressure is unlikely to yield this result.

To emphasize the uptick of political pressure on Taipei, the panelists discussed China’s failing Taiwan strategy. Beijing's plan for eventual re-unification utilizes a "carrot and stick" approach backed by China's strengthened military and economic capabilities, while simultaneously isolating Taiwan from the international community. The end goal would be to convince Taiwan and its citizens to seek benefits from China's so-called "great rejuvenation" and opt to negotiate with Beijing.  This would effectively return Taiwan to Beijing’s jurisdiction under an agreement similar to Hong Kong's “one country, two systems” model.  However, Beijing's attempts to capture the "hearts and minds" of the Taiwanese people have largely failed due to (though not limited to) the following factors: Taiwan has never been under CCP rule; the ever-dimming outlook for democracy and political freedom in Hong Kong; and the occurrence of a prominent Taiwanese identity revolution. With a majority DPP government in Taiwan, Beijing has handicapped their agenda through attempts to manipulate Taiwanese domestic politics. Beijing's “United Front” activities, which target and engage specific interest groups, unveil a deliberate attempt to weaken Taiwan's democratic processes.

Rather than attempting to improve upon relations set under the KMT administration, Beijing’s reaction to President Tsai's inauguration was to double down on political pressure and aggressive coercion tactics. This reflects Xi’s overall political ideology; in Xi’s view, Hong Kong and Taiwan are the last remaining holdouts needing to be converted to tightly controlled “police states” such as Xinjiang and Tibet. Political subversion, ethnic riots, and a slowing economy are Xi's nightmares, as they are obstacles to his “great rejuvenation,” which is fast replacing economic growth as the new foundation for CCP legitimacy. The addition of the M503 route in the Taiwan Strait exemplifies Beijing’s inability to mend its failing Taiwan strategy, and displays its unsettling tendency to resort to confrontational tactics to achieve its political goals.

The PLA and Aviation Routes as a Coercive Tool

It has become clear that Beijing seeks to leverage its military influence to achieve two goals: 1) to consolidate China’s sphere of influence in East Asia; and 2) to decrease the presence of U.S. forces in the region. With the M503 northbound air route, the PRC is now taking steps to “weaponize civilians” in its pressure tactics against Taiwan. Flying commercial airlines over open ocean in the Taiwan Strait, as opposed to more secure routes that hug the shoreline, is a new step taken by China that is intended to heavily tax Taiwan’s air patrols in the region. What's more, it increases the chance of a civilian or military aviation accident, a tragedy likely to trigger a diplomatic crisis.

As China’s military technology improves, so does its ability to engage in coercive campaigns against U.S. allies and partners. For example, the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) consistently flies routes over the Miyako Strait, off the east coast of Taiwan in the Philippine Sea, and over the Bashi Channel, all of which are of strategic importance to Taiwan's security. To Taiwan these waterways serve as critical conduits for trade and military patrols, and act as Taiwan’s geographical connection to the outside world. It is vital for Taiwan’s security that both their military and civilian aircraft and watercraft can depart from the island without having to report to PRC authorities, which would be the case if these waterways were declared part of the PRC's Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). The Bashi Channel is particularly pivotal, as it marks the rim of the “first island chain,” a term used to demarcate the archipelago of states located on the rim of the East and South China Seas where the PLA seeks to establish exclusive dominion. For Beijing, it is paramount that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) can operate--at will--across the channel. Another security matter is the location of submarine cables (specifically the APCN 2) in the Bashi Channel which support much of Taiwan’s Internet connectivity and usage of the World Wide Web. It is a matter of national security that Taiwan be able to maintain and secure its Internet connection.

Parallel to their physical presence, the PLAAF has learned to utilize social media to magnify their coercive operations. The PLA Daily, the PLA’s microblogging site, and the official PLA Twitter account regularly report PLA operations around Taiwan in a tactic of psychological warfare. For its part, Taiwan’s state and media outlets must be careful not to help accomplish Beijing’s agenda. It is in the interest of Taiwan and American allies in the region to develop more robust information sharing capabilities to monitor and track PLA activities; likewise, it would be advantageous for Taiwan and U.S. allies to avoid amplifying Beijing’s preferred perception of having an indomitable and pervasive military presence around Taiwan.

In accordance with this narrative, Xi has placed an emphasis on building a strong military capable of winning wars. To make up for a lack of combat experience, the People's Liberation Army has conducted at least 45 military exercises per year, for the last two years. In addition, the PLA has made efforts to conduct rigorous land, air and naval training exercises close to India, Russia, Japan, Taiwan, and in the South China Sea. China has also enhanced its combat readiness by training with other countries in the U.S. Navy-led Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC) exercises, and other multinational drills with China's neighbors to the west. While the Chinese prepare their military for an active and permanent role in the region, coercive actions such as the M503 route help to deteriorate established norms, allowing the Chinese to displace the activities of other powers in favor of a continuous PLA presence.

U.S. and Taiwan Roles

Given China's economic production capacity, effective control of information, and military capabilities, the PRC can interfere with America’s diplomatic and economic relationships on many fronts. Therefore, Taipei and Washington’s path forward must be to counter Beijing's political efforts through a robust public diplomacy campaign that emphasizes freedom of navigation (FON), information flows, and the rule of law. The U.S. must make clear that America, Taiwan, and all members of the international community can fly, sail, and operate wherever international laws allow. Regarding the first island chain, the U.S. has an interest in ensuring that China respects international waters and sovereign territory. A free and open Asia-Pacific is indispensable for regional diplomatic stability and healthy trade relations. If China operates in a designated security zone, or territorial waters or airspace of another country, it must be internationally admonished by the U.S. and Taiwanese administrations.

Perhaps the most obvious role of the U.S. government vis-à-vis Taiwan is to increase arms sales to the island so that it may adequately maintain its defense. Coercive airpower operations by the Chinese provide justification for U.S. assistance in upgrading Taiwan’s air force. Taiwan has been trying to rejuvenate their air force for over a decade, as in evident in their interest in purchasing F-35s, and recent upgrades to F-16Vs. The PLAAF exercises, and, now, civilian air routes, require the ROC air force to be on heightened alert around the island--a prerogative that could wear down the aircraft and exhaust the crew currently in use. For example, in 2016 alone, the Japanese Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) had to scramble their fighter jets 851 times in response to Chinese aircraft activity in Japan’s territorial waters. For Taiwan’s aging air fleet, that amount of activity would be challenging to sustain.

In addition to arms sales, encouraging high-level visits and dialogue between U.S. and Taiwanese officials would be strategic in countering coercive PLA activities. The Taiwan Travel Act, currently awaiting President Trump’s signature, is a model example of progress. During the Project 2049 Institute's event, Congressman Ted Yoho (R-FL), Chairman of the United States House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, gave strong statements of support for Washington’s need to work with Taiwan to strategically balance against China’s coercive activities. According to Congressman Yoho, the M503 route authorization is “yet another example of China’s territorial aggression in [Taiwan’s] near waters.” The Congressman stated it was the role of the United States to “defend Taiwan’s international presence and our bilateral ties.” Congressman Yoho is sharply aware that Xi Jinping is committed to replacing the existing world order with his own narrative, and that this is something the U.S. has a responsibility to counteract.

“China has ramped up a full-court press against Taiwan via domestic media infiltration, military air power coercion [and by] revoking their participation in even the most benign international organizations…. if we do not stand up [to China] now, it will be that much more difficult, more costly, and more dangerous to Taiwan.”

With more than just a rhetorical commitment to Taiwan on the world stage, Congressman Yoho recently sponsored the bipartisan bill H.R. 3320, which passed the House of Representatives on January 9th, 2018. The bill guarantees Taiwan’s status as an “observer” in the World Health Organization (WHO). He also co-signed a letter in January to Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai, admonishing Beijing’s activities in the Strait. These are the type of deliverables needed to establish a clear message to Beijing that Washington does not kowtow to the interests of a foreign power. The U.S. has a responsibility to defend the free world (or “promote a free and open Indo-Pacific”).  China’s unilateral effort to disrupt the status quo of aviation routes in the Taiwan Strait requires a firm repudiation from the United States and its allies and partners.


· China has a proven history of fait accompli methods of operation, such as military base construction in the South China Sea, "Nine-Dash Line" territorial claims, and the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). The unilateral M503 route implementation is cause for concern.

· Allowing Beijing to adulterate security norms in the Taiwan Strait vis-à-vis the M503 northbound flight routes may give way to the PRC's declaration of dominion over the entire waterway, perhaps culminating in the declaration of an ADIZ over the island of Taiwan.

· The goal of Chinese media is to establish the narrative of an opportunity-filled and prosperous Chinese future, led by the CCP, and backed by an unassailable PLA. The media outlets of the U.S. and its allies have a responsibility to refute this narrative, as it is far from the truth.

· Evident by the election of the DPP, and the likely prospect of China’s coercive tactics leading to further U.S. arms sales in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act, it is apparent that the CCP’s policies can be counterproductive to its own agenda. The U.S. and its allies in the Asia Pacific need to capitalize on these oversights by employing a concise media narrative against coercive operations, establishing clear channels of high-level communication, and encouraging Taiwan’s participation on the international stage.

· Taiwan has a role in refuting Beijing’s narrative of inevitable unification. Taiwan needs to be unified and clear on its direction with China, and remain committed to the fortification of its defense capabilities.


Colby Ferland was an intern at the Project 2049 Institute where he focused on cross-Strait relations and U.S. security issues in the Asia Pacific. He received his B.A. in International Relations and Political Science from The George Washington University, with a year abroad at the London School of Economics. 

Covert Coverage: Xinhua as an Agent of Influence in the United States

Posted on Wednesday, March 7, 2018 by Project2049Institute

(Xinhua President Cai Mingzhao addresses the audience at the 18th Party Congress in 2012.
Source: CNN)
By Emily Weinstein

“Xinhua serves some of the functions of an intelligence agency by gathering information and producing classified reports for the Chinese leadership on both domestic and international events.” 
                                    ----U.S. China Economic and Security Review Commission

In the United States, concerns over Xinhua and the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) global reach surfaced in late 2017, after the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) published its 2017 annual report in which it accused Xinhua and other Chinese state media entities of involvement in spying and propaganda. Since its establishment, Xinhua has acted as both the "throat and tongue" as well as the "eyes and ears" of the Chinese Communist Party. It first emerged in 1931 under the name Red China News Agency (红中社), which ran the newspaper Red China (红色中华报).[i] Its original motivations, although partly associated with the development of the newspaper industry, were predominantly politically motivated. Red China News Agency and its newspaperwere tasked with legitimizing the agency’s status as a media outlet as well as promoting the politics and ideology of the early Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The agency and newspaper were renamed Xinhua (新华) and New China (新中华报) respectively in 1937, but maintained a shared organizational structure until 1939. More than half a century later, Xinhua has developed into a formidable state-run media outlet with a global reach. In the U.S. specifically, its offices in Washington D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, San Francisco, and at the United Nations in New York are troublesome considering the organization's collection capabilities and access. Through China's vast media censorship and Party control, Xinhua has the ability to undermine U.S. soft power and foreign policy messaging by portraying China’s troubling actions as justified, thereby inaccurately influencing international and domestic audiences.

I.             Domestic Mission and Structure

After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC, China) in 1949, Xinhua became the country’s only legitimate national news agency. It has since been regarded as a state-owned news authority in charge of carrying out at least three missions: 1) present the voice of the government, with exclusive rights to cover the Party and the government’s official documents, leaders and activities, 2) implement centralized control over its branches within and outside the country, and 3) guide domestic news organizations to follow the Party’s principles in order to maintain control over public opinion.[ii]

Since 1949, Xinhua has continued to maintain close ties to Party and government organizations as a means to carry out its three missions. Domestically, the two main entities responsible for overseeing Xinhua News Agency are the State Council Information Office (国务院新闻办公室) and theCentral Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of China (中共中央宣传部).[iii] Notably, the current vice minister of the Central Propaganda Department, Jiang Jianguo (蒋建国) is dual-hatted as the Director of the State Council Information Office. Moreover, ties are visible within Xinhua’s current leadership, as the three highest-ranking officials have previous connections to these organizations:

Xinhua Position
Party Connection
Government Connection
Central Office of Foreign Propaganda—Deputy Director (2001-2009), Propaganda Department—Vice Minister (2009-2014)
State Council Information Office—Deputy Director (2001-2009), Director (2013-2014)
18th and 19thCentral Commission for Discipline Inspection[iv]—Member
CCPPD’s Public Affairs Work Bureau—Director (1990-1996)
State Internet News Center/China Network[v]—Director, State Internet Information Office—Director of Policy and Regulation Bureau (2014)

II.           Overseas Mission and Structure

After Deng Xiaoping's policy of "Reform and Opening Up" (改革开放) in 1978, the CCP began to focus on external propaganda work as a foreign policy tool. This began with the establishment of the External Propaganda Leading Group (对外宣传领导小组) in 1980. This leading group was under the joint sponsorship of the State Council and the CCP Central Committee, and later merged with the State Council in 1991 to form the State Internet Information Office (中央网信办公室).[vi] According to Propaganda and Ideology Work of the New Era (新时期宣传思想工作), external propaganda work is oriented towards four missions: 1) tell China’s story to the world, publicize Chinese government policies and perspectives, and promote Chinese culture abroad; 2) counter what is perceived to be hostile foreign propaganda; 3) promote unification and counter Hong Kong and Taiwan's (Republic of China, ROC) independence proclivities; and 4) propagate China’s foreign policy.[vii]

So how exactly does the Chinese government achieve these four missions? In conjunction with the other organizations similarly subordinate to the CCP Central Committee, the Propaganda Department is able to exercise its power both domestically and internationally. Of particular relevance is the United Front Work Department (中共中央统战部, UFWD), which is tasked with the surreptitious mission of collecting information, both domestically and internationally, in order to co-opt and control non-CCP elites. In recent years, the UFWD has developed an expansive global presence, despite the fact that there is little public acknowledgement of its influence, as it operates relatively quietly, often under the guise of other organizations. In other words, it is likely that many Chinese organizations operating internationally have unidentified connections to the UFWD.

Evidence of this connection can be seen in examining the history and role of the Hong Kong branch of Xinhua, which was established in 1947. In addition to acting as a news agency, it played a quasi-diplomatic role both during and after British control of the colony. During British rule, the island’s headquarters served as a de facto embassy because the PRC did not officially recognize British sovereignty over Hong Kong. During this time, the CCP used the local Xinhua office to assist in establishing a strong alliance with Hong Kong’s middle class and business elites, as well as to push its united front efforts for “patriotic” reunification.[viii]

Following Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 under the “One Country, Two Systems” concept, the Xinhua Hong Kong Branch was renamed the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) (中央人民政府驻香港特别区联络办公室). This decision was made by the State Council, who also renamed the Xinhua branch in Macau in a similar fashion. Following its official renaming in January 2000, the Hong Kong branch underwent a reorganization. The essence of the news agency was redirected under Xinhua News Agency, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Branch Co., Ltd. (新华通讯社香港特别行政区分社有限公司), while the remainder of its duties and responsibilities were subsumed under the new Liaison Office. 

According to Jiang Enzhu (姜恩柱), acting director of the Liaison Office from 2000-2002, this renaming was natural, as the Central People’s Government would now require a representative office in Hong Kong. The main duties of this new office included the following, all of which were functions that Jiang stressed had been previously performed by the former Xinhua News Agency Hong Kong Branch: 

• Maintain contact with the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the HKSAR’s PLA Garrison;

• Help relevant governmental departments on the mainland manage organizations and enterprises in Hong Kong;

• Promote cooperation between Hong Kong and the mainland in areas such as education, science, technology, culture and sports;

• Further develop exchanges between the mainland and Hong Kong; 

• Assist the Central Government in dealing with matters related to Taiwan.
Although the Liaison Office no longer acts as the official Xinhua branch in Hong Kong, it is important to note that the office’s duties (as highlighted above) remained the same throughout the entire transition. This indicates that Xinhua has a more significant connection to the Party and the government than a traditional news outlet would. This relationship is disquietingly significant because it makes Xinhua’s role as a credible news source, regardless of whether or not it is independent or state-owned, more questionable. Additionally, the current Liaison Office is of particular concern due to its connections to the UFWD. The Hong Kong and Macau Liaison Offices are listed as being directly tied to the United Front’s Third Bureau—the Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Overseas Liaison Bureau (港澳台、海外联络局). In Hong Kong, the Liaison Office has remained active in local legislative and District Council elections, often coordinating the campaigns of pro-Beijing candidates, mobilizing support to vote for what the CCP paints as “patriotic” political parties, clandestinely organizing electoral campaigns, and openly criticizing pro-democracy elites in Hong Kong.[ix] It is also responsible for collecting and analyzing information about Hong Kong, which it then sends back to relevant organs in Beijing with policy suggestions. Furthermore, due to Xinhua Hong Kong’s resources and previous function, perhaps the two entities continue to collaborate in regard to their historically-shared responsibilities. 

Thus, it is likely that Xinhua assists in providing and functioning as a type of collections entity in Hong Kong, as well as in other locations throughout the world. From 2009 to 2011, Xinhua opened 40 new foreign bureaus, bringing its total number of foreign subsidiaries to 162, with a goal to reach 200 by the year 2020. As Xinhua continues to expand its foreign reach, other global leaders are beginning to express concern over the role that Xinhua and the Chinese media play in their own domestic spheres.

III.         Intelligence Agency Function in the U.S.

Since their missions are so inherently different, it can be hard to imagine a news agency acting in the same capacity as open-source intelligence (OSINT) departments within the U.S. intelligence community and military. However, with regards to intelligence agency capabilities, Xinhua and its unique structure and capacity stand out among the rest. One of Xinhua’s most troubling aspects is its internal publication system, which, when compared to an intelligence agency, theoretically acts as the analysis and reporting instrument. Within Xinhua, there are three types of secret document publications that are circulated only within the Communist Party:

Frequency of Publication
Type of Material
国内动态清样 (“Final Proofs on Domestic Trends”)
2-6 pages on a single topic
Once-twice daily
“Top Secret”
Central leadership, ministerial-level officials, secretaries of provincial Party committees, provincial governors
Major event in China or policy proposal from party leadership; important channel for senior Party cadres to obtain timely news about China; copies must be returned to sender within set period and recipients held politically responsible if copies are lost
内部参考(“Internal Reference”)
40-50 pages
Twice a week
“Highly Secret” 
District or divisional officials and officers
Only official source of classified information about China for middle-high level cadres; discusses major national events and important speeches
内参选编(“Selected Internal Reference”)
30-40 pages 
“Secret,” but has become non-classified since mid-1990s
County and regimental-level officials and officers, rural township heads, town mayors, section-level cadres, battalion-level officers
Selections from “内部参考

These three publications are circulated internally within the CCP, similar to that of any daily intelligence briefing or report in the United States Intelligence Community. They provide the top CCP leadership with the most relevant information on China collected by Xinhua reporters both domestically and internationally. The fact that Xinhua is able to amass this type of information and produce these types of high-level internal reports while legally residing in the United States is extremely problematic and deserves immediate attention.

IV.         Conclusion 

In order to combat the Xinhua problem, experts have argued that Xinhua journalists operating in the U.S. should be required to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Originally created in 1938 to combat German propaganda efforts before World War II, FARA “requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts, and disbursements in support of those activities.” According to testimony provided by Sarah Cook, FARA should have the capacity to encompass foreign state-owned media operating in the U.S., meaning that Xinhua journalists should theoretically fall under this requirement category. However, because compliance with FARA is unacceptably low and rarely enforced, individuals working for agencies such as Xinhua who are likely collecting intelligence are not encompassed under FARA. For example, China Daily, another English-language newspaper run by the CCP and the Chinese government, is already registered under FARA, but only its top executives are required to disclose their employer. This is problematic, as it leaves a “loophole” for lower-level individuals acting as reporters to fly under FARA’s radar.

In response to the USCC’s report, experts and leaders in Congress have advocated for a variety of methods to combat Xinhua’s international collections capabilities. In 2016, the Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act was signed into law by President Obama, calling for expansion of the Global Engagement Center at the State Department to enable greater interagency cooperation on this issue. Many have also called on the FCC to reexamine its regulatory framework and enhance transparency by labeling content or media outlets owned by foreign governments. On the congressional side, leaders have already begun to hold congressional hearings regarding China’s influence operations in the United States, and they should continue to examine the role of Chinese United Front work within U.S. borders. A bipartisan group of lawmakers is also working to overhaul FARA and ensure that the loopholes being exploited by Xinhua reporters, and other foreign entities, are more closely monitored and eventually closed.

The United States and China are locked in a strategic competition in multiple domains—economic, diplomatic, and military. Values and ideas are what drives these domains, and Beijing’s efforts to shape perceptions in foreign countries presents a threat to the equity of this rivalry. Similar to the nightmarish effect of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, the Chinese have the capacity to skew the international system in a way that best adheres to the CCP’s desires, which often run counter to U.S. national interests. Along these lines, Peter Mattis argues that in order to combat Beijing’s political warfare, it is crucial to start with the CCP. The Communist Party’s actions require further scrutiny on the part of the United States and other global leaders in order to increase understanding and awareness of Chinese media and propaganda campaigns.


Emily Weinstein was an intern at the Project 2049 Institute where she focused on Chinese domestic and international influence operations, CCP organizational structure, and Chinese foreign policy. She is pursuing her MA in Security Studies at Georgetown University.

[i]Xin Xin, “A developing market in news: Xinhua News Agency and Chinese newspapers,” Media, Culture & Society Vol. 28(1): pg. 47-48 January 2006.
[ii]Ibid, pg. 49. 
[iii]David Shambaugh, “China’s Propaganda System: Institutions, Processes and Efficacy,” The China Journa,lNo. 57, January 2007, at
[iv]The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) is one of the departments directly subordinate to the CCP Central Committee. It has many internal offices that work directly with the Propaganda Department. In 1993, it became collocated with the Ministry of Supervision under the State Council. 
[v]The China Internet News Center (中国互联网新闻中心), also referred to as China Network (中国网), is a national new website under the leadership of the State Council. It was founded in 1997. 
[vi]David Shambaugh, “China’s Propaganda System: Institutions, Processes and Efficacy,” pg. 47.
[vii]“Propaganda and Ideology Work of the New Era (新时期宣传思想工作),” Central Propaganda Department Cadre Bureau Writing Group (中共中央宣传部干部局组织),August 2008.
[viii]Cindy Yik-yi Chu, “The Long History of United Front Activity in Hong Kong,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, July 2011, pg. 4, at
[ix]Sonny Shiu-Hing Lo, “The Dynamics of Beijing-Hong Kong Relations: A Model for Taiwan?” Hong Kong University Press, 2008, pg. 10-11, at

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