Prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy politician and Democratic Party founder Martin Lee (李柱銘) on Jan. 10 published an article headlined “Have I already become part of China’s united front strategy?” in the Hong Kong edition of the Apple Daily.
In the article, Lee reflects on an incident in 1986 at a meeting of the Hong Kong Basic Law Drafting Committee during which, as a committee member, he said he fell into a “united front” trap laid by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Lee said that he was invited by Beijing to participate in the committee, but at the time he did not understand the language and tactics of the CCP’s “united front” strategy, and due to his isolated position on the committee, he could achieve very little.
Once he realized his inclusion on the committee was to serve as political window dressing, Lee said he and fellow democracy activist Szeto Wah (司徒華) stepped down.
Lee’s reflections will be instructive to the new generation of pro-democracy campaigners, and that is a good thing, but it is a pity that he did not make the connection to show how the CCP was able to subsume the Democratic Party and Hong Kong’s pan-democracy camp into its “united front” campaign, since this is the reality that is facing the next generation of democracy activists in the territory.
Beijing is vigorously engaged in a “united front” campaign to crush the Hong Kong independence movement by infiltrating and appropriating the territory’s democracy movement, which includes doing whatever it takes to eliminate “troublemakers,” including placing them on an blacklist blocking them from entering mainland China.
Unfortunately, some Hong Kongers who have entered China have taken to posting online photographic evidence of their unhindered entry into China, a painful sight to see.
In Taiwanese and Hong Kong politics the “united front” is reduced to a simple concept: “China forming an alliance with its secondary enemies” — which means the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the anti-independence camp in Hong Kong — “to defeat its main enemies” — the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the pro-democracy camp in Hong Kong.
Although a secondary enemy has already been co-opted by China though its “united front” strategy, they remain an enemy in China’s eyes.
When China feels that they have defeated the main enemy that they were combating with their secondary enemy, that enemy now becomes the new main enemy.
In spite of this blindingly obvious logic, Hong Kong’s anti-independence camp are not only stupid enough not to understand what is going on, they are even assisting Beijing in its attacks on its main opponents: Hong Kong’s “nativist” political faction. In doing so, they are entering into a pact with the devil.
The KMT plays a similar role: the party is suffering from a collective amnesia and has completely forgotten how its members were slaughtered by the CCP when it treated the KMT as its main enemy.
The Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) recently reported that national security intelligence information shows that China has zeroed in on 10 organizations and groups in Taiwan: local-level administrative organizations; youth; students; Chinese spouses; Aborigines; pro-China political parties, religious groups and temples; Taiwanese with family connections in China; agricultural and fishing organizations; and retired generals. These groups and individuals are being cultivated by China as it goes about unifying Taiwan with China.
Since Beijing is casting its net so widely, every Taiwanese has the potential of becoming part of China’s strategy.
In dealing with this threat, there are three main attitudes that the public usually adopt. The first is to refuse all interaction with “united front” groups or individuals; the second is to feel flattered by China’s charm offensive; and the third pursues whatever policy deemed to be in the best interest of Taiwan.
The second kind of people are the most dishonorable and shameless, while the third group have the hardest task, since they must find a way to marry their principles with pragmatism and combine dogged perseverance with compromise. If they are not careful they end up being caught between two stools.
Politicians and influential members of the public who belong to this group must continually carry out a balancing act and must remain vigilant to avoid making a mistake, while developing a thorough understanding of China’s strategy.
Rather than adhering to the simplistic definition of China’s “united front” strategy as described above, the strategy should instead be defined as “exploiting contradictions in society, winning over the majority, opposing minority groups and defeating the enemy one by one.”
Of these, the two most crucial tactics are exploiting contradictions and crushing opponents one by one.
Exploiting contradictions includes doing so at a group level, but also on an individual level, exploiting the contradictions inherent within human nature: good and evil, strength and weakness.
When these contradictions become apparent, undercover Chinese operatives are moved into place with the aim of buttering-up certain groups and attacking others. This is achieved through the use of extremist slogans, but sometimes also through a friendly approach.
In Taiwan, when politicians and public individuals call for “unity,” they do so because they fear that the nation could be torn apart by China’s “united front” strategy. It is a question of principle.
Although Beijing exploits internal contradictions within groups and organizations, it also works on individuals. It carries out detailed intelligence gathering on individual targets, then uses scare tactics on the weak, or finds the Achilles heel of stronger characters.
Money, women and honor are all used as leverage. Chinese spies are particularly adept at exploiting elderly and retired people who are unwilling to give up the limelight.
China’s strategy employs transparent tactics, such as when it invites Taiwanese to attend certain events, as well as covert methods, such as having “old friends” suddenly pay a visit after several years without any contact to discuss certain affairs to do with China.
Taiwanese should be most vigilant against China’s intelligence gathering work; specifically intelligence obtained through social interaction. It is all too easy for an individual to be caught off guard and let sensitive or secret information slip out.
Similarly, if an individual’s response to China’s “united front” campaign is to feel flattered, then they will naturally divulge the knowledge that they possess and will either consciously or unconsciously become a spy or informer for Chinese secret intelligence.
At the beginning of the 1950s, the publisher of Hong Kong’s Ta Kung Pao, Eric Chou (周榆瑞), was a high-profile target of China’s “united front” strategy.
He was tricked into returning to China and branded a British spy. Kept under investigation by the Chinese authorities for many years, Chou was finally allowed to return to Hong Kong after agreeing to spy for the CCP. Eventually, he fled to Britain where he wrote a detailed account of his experience in the book Indecision and Decision.
The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, although ostensibly an academic institution, is engaged in intelligence gathering. Various arms of the Chinese state have my records on file, including the Ministry of Public Security, Ministry of State Security, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Liaison Office, Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and Taiwan Affairs Office.
However, to my surprise, the academy has a file on me too. It comes into frequent contact with Taiwanese academics, who really should be aware of the role the academy plays in China’s intelligence gathering operations.
Mao Zedong (毛澤東) categorized China’s “united front” strategy as the Communist revolution’s “third trick.”
In the Chinese Civil War, the CCP were in a weaker position than the KMT, but they used the false promise of democracy and equality to con young students and intellectuals. The tactic was extremely successful, so much so that a series of sons and daughters of high-level KMT officials fell into China’s “united front” trap and sold out their families and their party to the CCP.
However, after the CCP established the People’s Republic of China, many of these people fell victim to political score settling and were forced out of the party.
With China’s recent rise to power, its “united front” strategy no longer needs to rely on ideology, but instead dangles the fat carrot of naked profit to entice its targets. Its shameless victims are then turned into Beijing’s puppets.
Of the two small organizations to which I belong, both have been infiltrated by Chinese agents and had people become caught up in China’s “united front” strategy. Can we therefore say for certain that the DPP and important government departments have not been infiltrated?
A former CIA officer living in Hong Kong was recently arrested by the US, suspected of having illegally retained and passed on classified information to China.
This reminds one of the case of Larry Chin (金無怠), a Chinese language translator working for the CIA who spied for China between 1952 and 1986.
Taiwan, where national identity is so polarized, must clearly and robustly oppose unification with China, but at the same time needs to work just as hard to address the problem of Chinese espionage.
Everyone needs to keep asking themselves this question: Have I unwittingly become a cog in China’s “united front” strategy?
Paul Lin is a media commentator.
Translated by Edward Jones
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