BEIJING: Multiple reports suggest that Beijing has created a global network of spies that work to silence critics and dissidents in different parts of the world.
The US-based non-profit organization, in its recent report, documented 735 incidents of “transnational repression” between 2014 and 2021.
According to the Freedom House, China conducts the most sophisticated, global, and comprehensive campaign of transnational repression in the world. Efforts by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to pressure and control the overseas population of Chinese and members of minority communities are marked by three distinctive characteristics.
“First, the campaign targets many groups, including multiple ethnic and religious minorities, political dissidents, human rights activists, journalists, and former insiders accused of corruption. Second, it spans the full spectrum of tactics: from direct attacks like renditions, to co-opting other countries to detain and render exiles, to mobility controls, to threats from a distance like digital threats, spyware, and coercion by proxy. Third, the sheer breadth and global scale of the campaign is unparalleled,” said Washington, D.C based group Freedom House in its recent report.
The Washington-based group says that these egregious and high-profile cases are only the tip of the iceberg of a much broader system of surveillance, harassment, and intimidation. Many overseas Chinese and exile minorities feel that the CCP is watching them and constraining their ability to exercise basic rights even when living in a foreign democracy.
The extensive scope of China’s transnational repression is a result of a broad and ever-expanding definition of who should be subject to extraterritorial control by the Chinese Communist Party.
Due to China’s growing power internationally, its campaign has a significant effect on the rights and freedoms of overseas Chinese and minority communities in exile in dozens of countries. Additionally, the CCP’s use of transnational repression poses a long-term threat to rule of law systems in other countries. This is because Beijing’s influence is powerful enough to not only violate the rule of law in an individual case, but also to reshape legal systems and international norms to its interests.
The harshest forms of direct transnational repression from Chinese agents–espionage, cyberattacks, threats, and physical assaults–emerge primarily from the CCP’s domestic security and military apparatus: agencies like the Ministry of State Security (MSS), the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), although the precise division of labor among these entities is often unclear.
Persecution of Uighurs, Tibetans, and political dissidents is typically managed by the MSS,3 but MPS is often involved in threats against family members within China, or cases where regional authorities call exiles to threaten them from within China.
Other forms of transnational repression that involve working through the legal and political systems of foreign countries–including detentions and extraditions–or that involve diplomatic staff at embassies and consulates, run through agencies like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.