The United Front Work Department, a domestic and foreign lobbying organization that reports directly to the CCP Central Committee and is tasked with managing and influencing a wide range of issues perceived threatening to the Party, has been significantly expanded under Xi Jinping’s first five-year term. Launching a series on Chinese soft power, the Financial Times’ James Kynge, Lucy Hornby, and Jamil Anderlini this week reported in depth on the long reach of the secretive organization that looks set to continue its work winning hearts and minds for the Communist Party during Xi’s second term. The report outlines the nine bureaus of the UFWD—each focused on areas that the Party perceives as posing threats to its power, provides a look into an organizational training manual which lays out its global mission in “language that is intended both to beguile and intimidate,” and summarizes Xi’s campaign to make the organization a lynchpin of China’s soft power initiative. Kynge and Anderlini also discussed the UFWD and its expanding significance in a FT Big Read podcast. In the podcast, they analyze the contradictions between Beijing’s drive to win global support and the insecurity that is implicit in their ever-increasing censorship efforts. Opacity surrounding Party rule was highlighted this week at the 19th Party Congress, when five “troublemaking” foreign media organizations—including the Financial Times—were barred from attending Xi Jinping’s unveilling of the new Politburo and Standing Committee. Retaining her seat on the Politburo is UFWD head Sun Chunlan, who is now the sole female on the 25-member Politburo.
Earlier in the Congress, Sun’s deputy in charge of the UFWD, Zhang Yijiong, held a sideline press conference, in which he praised the organization as “the political coalition of all parties, all walks of life, all ethnic groups, and all associations” while maintaining ambiguity on details regarding its work. Taking Zhang’s rare public highlighting of the UFWD as a cue, The Diplomat’s Charlotte Gao provides a closer look at the organization’s history, structure, and expanding role:
The idea of the UF originated from Leninism. Leninism held that people were divided by class and the communist was the representative of the proletarians; the communist’s goal was to overthrow the capitalism oppressing the proletarians and achieve socialism and finally communism. However, to achieve this final goal, the communist could use some temporary expedients, such as allying with more minor enemies against the major target.
[…] In 1924, the newborn CCP quickly put this Leninist idea into practice by allying with the Kuomintang (KMT), hoping to eat the KMT away from within. Although the first UF with the KMT failed in 1927, Mao Zedong inherited the idea and argued that the CCP should take full advantage of the UF to expand the party. During the Chinese civil war, for example, the CCP used the UF to recruit all social forces as long as they opposed the KMT.
After the foundation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), as the direct and major enemies of the CCP — the KMT — had been defeated. Those who used to be allied with the CCP under the UF, such as the bourgeoisie, intellectuals, and religious groups, gradually became the object of dictatorship.
[…] In plain words, the UFWD’s role is to collect information (and it necessarily would involve intelligence collecting), co-opt non-CCP elites into political center, and control them accordingly.
[…] In theory, the UF will ultimately disintegrate or absorb all the party’s “enemies,” enhance the state’s legitimacy, and keep society stable. That’s why Zhang said, quoting Xi Jinping, that “the United Front is an important magic weapon for the the party’s victory.” [Source]
For more on Xi Jinping’s reinvigoration of the United Front Work Department, see reports from 2014 and 2015 by Gerry Groot at The China Story, a 2017 brief on United Front work from Marcel Angliviel de la Beaumelle at The Jamestown Foundation, or a 2017 section on its structure and interaction with other Party organizations in Vision Times “Secret China” report. Concerns related to the massive political influence that Beijing has gained in Australia have recently spread to New Zealand, and a recent case study on United Front work from The Wilson Center’s Anne-Marie Brady focuses on political influence activities in New Zealand. See also earlier reports on the United Front’s role in shepherding overseas Chinese students to “serve the country in various ways” from China Change, its efforts to reabsorb Taiwan and influence its politics from Reuters, and its support for a Tibetan Buddhist sect staunchly opposed to the Dalai Lama, also from Reuters (via CDT).