An American Response to Qiaowu: Countering CCP Exploitation of the International Chinese Diaspora

Even as the United States has become more aware of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) sustained political warfare against its adversaries, little has been done to expose or counter the Party’s exploitation of the international Chinese diaspora. The U.S. government has a strong strategic and moral interest in devoting more resources to protecting Chinese Americans from harassment and exploitation, helping to rebuild Chinese-language media for diaspora communities, and documenting the Party’s political warfare against overseas Chinese for awareness and exposure. General Secretary Xi Jinping, in keeping with his predecessors’ philosophy, regards influencing ethnic Han Chinese overseas as critical for both maintaining stability at home and subverting governments abroad.1 As a result, the CCP has built up an integrated bureaucracy for surveilling, manipulating, and coercing these populations across the world. Intermediate aims of the CCP approach toward overseas Chinese include dominating the Chinese-language diaspora media ecosystem, coopting cultural and educational institutions within the diaspora, and eliminating potential sources of dissent.2 As a result, the Party has achieved strong influence or even control over the primary channels of organization and communication within the diaspora. Ethnic Chinese living abroad, including those living in the United States and allied liberal democracies, are therefore extremely vulnerable to surveillance and exploitation. 

Protecting the Chinese diaspora, particularly in the United States, from surveillance and harassment is not only a just cause but also a crucial step in effectively competing with the PRC by undercutting its global political warfare strategy. Instead, most American efforts to counter CCP political warfare within the United States have focused on preventing already-coopted front groups within the diaspora from influencing non-ethnic Chinese targets.3 This failure can be attributed to limited public awareness about CCP activity, the lack of an organization within the U.S. government with the resources and authority to act effectively, and a general hesitancy to adopt any policies specifically pertaining to the Chinese diaspora. While there is no clear path to protecting all ethnic Chinese people living in the United States from monitoring and harassment, the U.S. government should prioritize making resources available for those who are targeted. This effort should include both bureaucratic innovation to ensure that there are well-resourced government entities to provide support and protection for victims of CCP aggression and a campaign of outreach to the Chinese-American community. Beyond the borders of the United States, investment by the U.S. government to reinvigorate independent Chinese-language media for the worldwide diaspora would be a cost-effective method of countering the CCP’s influence. Finally, a United Front Working Group modeled on the Active Measures Working Group of the 1980s and focused on CCP exploitation of the diaspora would not only undercut CCP political warfare efforts and provide critical awareness to members of the diaspora, but also help build domestic and international support for competing with the CCP. 

The CCP and Overseas Chinese

Despite the opaqueness of the CCP’s political warfare bureaucracy, it is clear that the CCP regards manipulation of the international Chinese diaspora as a critical component of its global political warfare strategy. Including all those of Han Chinese descent living outside the borders of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), estimates of this group range between 40-60 million (5.4 million live within the United States alone).4 Party rhetoric proclaims that anyone of Han Chinese heritage, including citizens of other countries, belongs to the Chinese nation and retains a patriotic responsibility to advance the interests of China, which it defines as identical to the interests of the CCP.5 While the CCP also conducts sustained, vicious political warfare against ethnic minority populations abroad, principally the Uyghur and Tibetan diasporas, this article deals only with the Party’s approach to Han Chinese living overseas.6 Xi Jinping characterizes the overall effort to manipulate and mobilize the Chinese diaspora as a campaign to “bring together the hearts and power of the overseas Chinese” in the service of the Party.7 Such rhetoric is nothing new for Xi, who as Fuzhou Party Secretary in 1995 published an article arguing that “overseas Chinese affairs work must break through [defined] areas and borders, and step beyond the scope of overseas Chinese affairs agencies, making it into an important task for the party and each level of government, so that all of society together attends to and participates in this important task.”8 Xi has executed his vision since 2015 by integrating different bureaucratic organs in support of the same mission, most notably folding the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office into the United Front Work Department.9 The end result encompasses a network of well-resourced and aligned elements of the CCP, backed by senior leadership, dedicated to controlling and exploiting populations of overseas Chinese around the world.10

The CCP’s exploitation of overseas Chinese has a two-fold purpose: to neutralize a potential source of opposition to the regime, and to mobilize influential elements of the diaspora to subvert the policies of foreign governments in favor of the Party. Historical examples of Chinese expatriates such as Sun Yat-sen becoming focal points of resistance to ruling regimes contribute to the CCP’s determination to stamp out any dissenting voices within the Chinese diaspora.11 Overseas Chinese are viewed as particularly vulnerable to the influence of Western media and democratic propaganda, which heightens the CCP’s perception that preemptive measures are required to maintain control.12 While the CCP defines neutralizing nodes of resistance within the diaspora as an end in itself, it also judges populations of overseas Chinese to be critical levers through which to subvert the policies of foreign governments. 

Once influential figures and groups within the diaspora have been fully coopted, the CCP directs them to advance the Party’s interests abroad. Most Western discussion of countering CCP political warfare has centered around protecting non-ethnic Chinese targets of espionage and influence from the work of these front groups, which are almost always the product of previous CCP political warfare within Chinese diaspora populations. Countermeasures to protect American and allied governments and business interests from subversion are undoubtedly important, and there are elementary steps that Western governments should take to counter these front organizations: legislation barring lawmakers and government employees from accepting foreign benefits, active public diplomacy to present counter-narratives to the general public, and support for increased transparency through both government and non-government actors. However, all these measures deal with the problem of limiting the potential impact of front organizations on their intended foreign targets. Increased awareness among Western actors may help insulate them from unwittingly serving CCP interests and targeted legislation may decrease incentives to knowingly help the regime. However, it is also critical to empower those within the diaspora to maintain independence from the CCP. 

CCP Tactics for Cooption of the Diaspora

The CCP’s relationship with the Han diaspora is defined primarily by the Party’s commitment to qiaowu, which can be understood as any process through which the CCP exerts influence or control over ethnic Chinese living outside of the PRC for political benefit.13 While the methods of influence and subversion that constitute qiaowu are a unique product of the Party’s communist ideology, previous regimes in China had also developed tools for exerting control over the Chinese diaspora, dating back to the Qing Dynasty’s bureaus for overseas Chinese in 1858.14 After elements of the Chinese diaspora proved crucial in overthrowing the Qing Dynasty, both the CCP and the rival Kuomintang (KMT) competed vigorously for the loyalty of overseas Chinese during and after the Chinese Civil War.15 The CCP’s conception of qiaowu is integrated into a broader commitment of United Front work as one of the “magic weapons” available for the preservation and strengthening of the party.16 It is worth noting that the CCP’s practice of political warfare is deeply indebted to Soviet direction, training, and resourcing in the early days of the Party; qiaowu bears more than a passing resemblance to the Soviet weaponization of émigré networks against the West.17 In the aftermath of Tiananmen Square, the CCP redoubled its commitment to political warfare within the diaspora, which was aided by the PRC’s growing economic attraction and ability to marshal resources outside its borders.18 As previously noted, Xi Jinping has paid special attention to the role of overseas Chinese in contributing to the project of national rejuvenation.19 Over time, three time-tested methods of exerting Party influence within the diaspora have become priorities for the CCP: dominating the overseas Chinese-language media ecosystem, controlling Chinese cultural and educational institutions abroad, and targeting independent voices with a combination of bribery and harassment. 

Controlling Diaspora Media

The CCP has largely eroded a formerly vibrant and independent Chinese-language diaspora media ecosystem and replaced it with a network of ostensibly independent outlets that are beholden to Party interests. In the second half of the twentieth century, ethnic Chinese populations living in the West, in Southeast Asia, or elsewhere had access to independent news and analysis tailored to their background (i.e., mainland China, Taiwan, or Hong Kong) and their socioeconomic status.20 The CCP responded to this unfavorable environment by attempting to both take control of legacy Chinese-language media outlets and sponsoring the creation of favored competitors. In some cases, CCP-affiliated groups have purchased diaspora media sources outright.21 In others, the Party offers content cooperation partnerships with official state media in return for access to the domestic Chinese market and support from United Front-affiliated organizations.22 This tactic is enabled by the forward presence of the PRC’s state-approved media outlets including but not limited to Xinhua, China Central Television (CCTV), China Radio International, and The People’s Daily; these elements of the Party’s propaganda apparatus are the vector through which much of the CCP’s influence is exerted over formerly independent media.Once the CCP gains influence over an overseas Chinese-language media outlet, it promotes a steady stream of Party talking points in concert with state media and official pronouncements designed to “tell China’s story.”23 Official conferences and trips to mainland China, organized and funded either by Chinese government employees or front groups, serve to further incentivize Chinese-language outlets to cooperate with the Party and facilitate the orchestration of an integrated propaganda strategy.24 As a result, independent voices in many parts of the world have been wholly unable to compete with the United Front’s resources.25 

Influencing Cultural and Educational Institutions

Exerting control over cultural associations and educational groups within the diaspora constitutes the second pillar of the CCP’s qiaowu. The CCP’s diplomatic presence abroad serves as the main vector of influence for this effort, since the cover of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs allows United Front Work Department (UFWD) personnel to funnel resources into ostensibly apolitical cultural and educational initiatives.26 PRC diplomatic personnel organize the formation of cultural associations tailored to overseas Chinese and recruit individuals within the diaspora to take on leading roles.27 For example, the Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China (CPPRC) appears to outsiders as a grassroots organization encouraging constructive debate, but is in practice controlled by the UFWD and serves as an important way for CCP agents to mobilize friendly elements of the diaspora.28 Ethnic Chinese are invited on “root-seeking” visits to the PRC, which are frequently subsidized by the UFWD and paint the CCP’s rule as wholly benevolent and effective.29 CCP agents operating through consulates and embassies provide organizational and financial resources to sponsor cultural events, which are meant to both showcase the Party’s view of China and bring new members of the diaspora into the United Front orbit.30 

Particular emphasis is placed on resourcing and directing Chinese Scholars and Students Associations (CSSA) on foreign university campuses, since the CCP views overseas Chinese students as both potentially dangerous and especially valuable tools for foreign influence; controlling CSSAs on campus allows the CCP to closely monitor and influence any student of Chinese heritage.31 When the blatant bias of CCP-controlled front groups involving overseas Chinese sparks backlash, the UFWD and its allies are able to shift resources to parallel efforts without losing momentum. Public outrage in the United States surrounding the CCP’s use of Confucius Institutes to conduct political warfare within and beyond the diaspora caused many American chapters to be nominally shut down, but in practice many of the same front organizations were simply rebranded under different names and functioned as before.32 

Harassment and Intimidation

The CCP openly dismisses the idea that ethnic Chinese living abroad, even citizens of foreign nations, should be free from the sovereignty of the Party, and employs a variety of tactics to silence anyone identified as a potential threat to CCP dominance.33 On occasion, such tactics can include bribery; the promise of wealth and access to power centers within the PRC has proved enough to convince some formerly ardent pro-democracy activists to instead promote a policy of “constructive engagement.”34 Most of the time, the CCP relies on blatantly coercive measures to eliminate potential opponents. At a minimum, ethnic Chinese figures who are publicly critical of the CCP suffer online harassment organized and amplified on both Western and Chinese social media platforms.35 In one of many examples, the Chinese émigré and Canadian journalist Sheng Xue was targeted by doctored pictures and slanderous stories spread across social media networks.36 CCP authorities threaten other independent voices with financial ruin, bodily harm, kidnapping and rendition, or threats to relatives still living in China. Unfortunately, these are not idle threats. Gui Minhai, a Swedish bookseller of Chinese origin who had fled Hong Kong after selling books that angered the CCP, was kidnapped, taken to China, and forced to confess crimes against the Party.37 A Freedom House report documented 214 separate instances of direct, physical attacks against members of the Chinese diaspora at the behest of the CCP since 2014.38 The Party justifies its international terror tactics by claiming that they are part of Xi Jinping’s global anti-corruption campaign, termed Operation Fox Hunt or Operation Sky Net, while openly targeting individuals without connections to any major political or financial institution.39 While some overseas Chinese are threatened directly by CCP security services, the Party also mobilizes friendly elements of the diaspora to make threats on its behalf in order to maintain plausible deniability. For example, a 25-year-old Chinese student at the Berklee College of Music was arrested in December 2022 for stalking and harassing an individual who posted flyers in support of democracy in China.40  

Strategic Importance

Much ink has been spilled by Western commentators and politicians reiterating the importance of not conflating members of the Chinese diaspora with the CCP, and avoiding any policies that could be seen as casting undue suspicion or attributing unpatriotic motivations. This attitude generally paints diaspora populations as victims of a clumsy response by Western governments to CCP provocation, or as the targets of public harassment sparked by insufficiently nuanced official rhetoric in the West.41 The CCP both amplifies and undermines this line of reasoning by attributing any anti-CCP stance to racism against ethnic Chinese.42 These views overattribute agency to the United States and its allies and ignore the central dynamic at play: the CCP’s persistent and aggressive attempts to manipulate diaspora populations for its own ends, by coercion if necessary. Even those who appreciate the position of overseas Chinese as targets of political warfare highlight the difficulties of finding solutions. The American bureaucracies most aware of CCP political warfare within the United States are those focused on domestic counterintelligence; representatives from these agencies have testified that they face severe difficulties gaining awareness of developments within Chinese-American communities while avoiding the perception of discrimination.43 The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been able to identify some targets of CCP harassment programs like Operation Fox Hunt only through surveillance of the United Front agents who are responsible for conducting the campaign of harassment, putting the agency in a position where it is always a step behind.44 Additionally, the CCP’s ability to work through a mesh of rapidly evolving organizations means that a heavy focus on countering any particular front group is generally counterproductive. 

For the United States and its allies, protecting overseas Chinese populations from exploitation by the CCP is not only a moral responsibility but a strategic imperative, since overseas Chinese play such a prominent role in the Party’s grand strategy for global dominance. Without the freedom to build up front organizations at will and lacking the support of a friendly Chinese-language media environment, the UFWD will struggle to effectively conduct political warfare outside the borders of the PRC. Beyond this potential shortfall, the CCP would likely view any erosion of its control over diaspora networks as presenting a threat to its domestic stability. Outside the scope of political warfare, the CCP exploits the presence of overseas Chinese for extensive intelligence-gathering and technology transfer, which means that protecting the diaspora from political warfare would further shield the United States and its allies. 


The CCP’s strategy to exploit overseas Chinese is built on a paranoia-fueled desire for total control, expressed in a policy that calls for surveillance and harassment of any dissident voices. The United States’ response should be predicated not on control or manipulation but on enabling individual freedom of expression and association without fear of reprisal. The U.S. government should initiate a three-pronged strategy to protect Chinese Americans from harassment, rejuvenate legacy Chinese-language media, and expose the extent of CCP manipulation within the diaspora. Any U.S. government policy toward the international Chinese diaspora has the potential to cause backlash on the grounds of discrimination, a line of attack that will unquestionably be amplified by the same CCP political warfare apparatus that oversees qiaowu. This should not deter U.S. leadership from mounting a necessary response, but it does mean that U.S. government efforts should include significant public-facing efforts to maintain widespread support and dispel misconceptions.  

Active Protection

Though the U.S. government cannot preemptively protect the Chinese diaspora in the United States from the CCP’s qiaowu tactics, guarding those who are being actively targeted by the CCP should be an urgent priority. Law enforcement entities have already made some progress in disrupting CCP operations on American soil: the FBI made its first arrests related to Operation Fox Hunt in 2020, and public outrage about the existence of CCP “police stations” in the United States tasked with surveilling overseas Chinese has resulted in bipartisan congressional pressure to enhance the Bureau’s investigations and prosecutions.45 

Additionally, the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force created a unit in 2019 to investigate United Front activity within the United States and provide “defensive briefings” to government and non-government organizations.46 However, these proactive measures do not address the full scope of the problem; the U.S. government should also make resources readily available to any member of the diaspora under surveillance or active pressure from the CCP. Finding a bureaucratic home for coordinating and dispersing these resources may be difficult, since a comprehensive solution will require two primary lines of effort which currently fall under different organizations’ purviews. 

First, the office tasked with countering qiaowu on American soil must be able to rapidly and flexibly provide active protection from economic, cyber, and physical harassment. While no community can be fully insulated from blackmail (for example, those with relatives still in China will always be particularly vulnerable), the U.S. government does have expertise in protecting vulnerable groups from targeted coercion. For example, the Marshals Service has found innovative ways to protect the federal judiciary from intimidation and harassment in the age of the internet.47 These processes are just as applicable to protecting Chinese Americans who have been identified as threats by the CCP. 

The second necessary line of effort is a campaign of outreach at both local and national levels to spread awareness among ethnic Chinese living overseas about the extent of CCP activity and the resources available for victims. This type of domestic outreach requires multilingual personnel who can build trust with diaspora communities while also coordinating closely with law enforcement and the intelligence community to maintain awareness of ongoing CCP subversion. Critical to the success of this campaign is the establishment of secure, well-publicized channels through which anyone who can credibly claim to be targeted by the CCP can quickly make contact with the necessary authorities and take advantage of legal, financial and security-related resources. Establishing such channels would be doubly effective by not only actively aiding vulnerable members of the diaspora, but also undermining the CCP’s confidence in the extent of its control; if United Front agents had no means to discover which of their targets were in communication with the U.S. government, they would be forced to tread much more carefully. 

Supporting Independent Diaspora Media Worldwide

In assessing the impact of CCP efforts to dominate diaspora media, the content of individual pro-regime narratives counts for little in comparison with the CCP’s ability to maintain a relative monopoly on the mechanisms through which these narratives are promulgated. If the United States and its allies were able to support alternative Chinese-language viewpoints throughout the Chinese diaspora, they would strike a critical blow at the CCP’s vision for managing overseas Chinese. At first glance, this appears to be a manageable task; the diaspora has historically included a diverse network of independent Chinese-language sources of news and analysis which, despite losing ground to CCP-controlled sources, has the potential for reinvigoration.48 The heavy hand of CCP influence has already resulted in a movement toward more independent sources in some places. In Australia, for example, prominent Chinese-language media outlets partnered with Beijing in the early 2000s, but due to public backlash reversed course and currently publish content critical of the CCP.49 Nevertheless, the United States must thread a delicate needle in its efforts to promote an independent network of Chinese-language voices within the diaspora; the U.S. government is committed to freedom of speech, and the American public is deeply suspicious of any government efforts to influence discourse in Mandarin or otherwise. 

The U.S. government should draw on its experience successfully supporting dissident media networks throughout the Cold War to make room for independent Chinese-language voices. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) support for the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) enabled and promoted an organic movement of left-leaning anti-communist European intellectuals between 1950 and 1967, but provoked outrage due to a lack of transparency surrounding funding and a lack of clarity about how much editorial control was exerted by the agency.50 Despite deep internal divisions surrounding how best to combat the spread of communism, the CCF successfully shored up the intellectual foundations of social democracy in Europe and articulated a countervailing vision to the propaganda pushed relentlessly by the Soviet Union and its allies.51 Despite little evidence that the CIA ever directly interfered in the governance of the organization or pushed specific narratives, public revelations by the American press that the Agency was responsible for funding the Congress for Cultural Freedom shut down the organization in 1967.52 Transparent U.S. government support for dissident Eastern European media in the 1980s points to a more effective path forward. Under the Reagan administration, the U.S. government overtly funneled money and supplies through the newly-founded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to a number of activist-led nonprofits and media outlets both within and outside the borders of Warsaw Pact countries, principally Poland.53 This strategy played a key role in sustaining resistance networks within the Soviet Bloc, and directly contributed to the eventual triumph of the Solidarity movement within Poland. The NED’s transparency about its sources of funding and its commitment to editorial non-interference minimized backlash within the United States and undermined Soviet claims of American propagandizing.54

While U.S. government support for international media should have a different aim than it did during the end of the Cold War, similar mechanisms can be used to prevent CCP dominance of international Chinese-language media. The NED currently disburses grants to support democracy in Asia, but in 2021 none of its funding was explicitly earmarked for supporting Chinese-language media inside or outside the borders of the PRC.55 The U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which oversees all federal media initiatives like Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, is requesting $944 million for FY2024 to combat authoritarian misinformation and propaganda.56 However, all media training initiatives sponsored by USAGM from 2021–2023 were focused on assisting independent reporting in the developing world, with no funding for independent Chinese-language media within or outside the PRC. Original research and reporting to combat propaganda from the CCP and other authoritarian governments is important, but cannot take the place of organic, credible voices within the Chinese-language diaspora; money should be redirected or, if necessary, added to directly support the legacy diaspora media under attack from CCP political warfare. The United States cannot hope to match the resources that the CCP pours into manipulating international discourse, but can be content with humbler aims: instead of swaying Chinese-language media into agreement with a set of predetermined narratives, ensuring the survival and availability of credible, independent voices is sufficient. 

United Front Working Group

Following another successful Cold War strategy, the U.S. government should highlight United Front agents of influence and CCP manipulation of the Chinese diaspora. Throughout the 1970s, Soviet political warfare campaigns (or “active measures”) had achieved some success in eroding American political influence worldwide, and even succeeded in undercutting NATO’s military strength by forestalling the planned deployment of the enhanced radiation warhead, dubbed the citizen-killing “neutron bomb” by Soviet propagandists, to Western Europe in 1979.57 Just as the U.S. government is not currently well-postured to counter political warfare within the Chinese diaspora, the American national security apparatus had no natural home from which to mobilize a satisfactory response to Soviet propaganda and disinformation. Aware of this deficiency, the Reagan administration instituted an interagency working group called the Active Measures Working Group (AMWG) in 1981 with the sole purpose of researching, cataloguing, and exposing Soviet disinformation.

The group was originally headed by the Department of State but had representatives from the CIA, Department of Defense, National Security Council (NSC) staff, the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), and other Department of State entities. The AMWG collected examples of Soviet forgeries and disinformation, dissecting them in detail to find incontrovertible proof of falsehood, and publishing its findings to undercut the Soviets’ political warfare objectives.58 The group’s links with the CIA ensured that it drew from accurate intelligence, but it took great pains to utilize unclassified material as much as possible in order to make its mission of sharing information easier.59 Department of State representation ensured that the group’s findings were released in a politically sensitive way, while the USIA provided an ideal channel through which the global public could be made aware of Soviet duplicity. The group produced written reports (generally short Foreign Affairs notes in the early years of its existence and a few much longer, comprehensive exposes of Soviet disinformation in 1986 and 1987), and went abroad with “truth squads” to convince foreign governments of the deception underlying relevant Soviet political warfare campaigns.60 This work had a significant impact on the Soviet government’s ability to effectively spread disinformation, since the well-researched exposure of Soviet forgeries and disinformation shaped international discourse in favor of the West and eroded Soviet credibility. In a meeting with Secretary of State George Shultz in October 1987, Premier Mikhail Gorbachev angrily referenced the AMWGas undermining Soviet global influence, which indicates the anxiety with which Soviet leadership regarded the group’s work.61 

An interagency working group to counter political warfare against the Chinese diaspora should adopt similar tactics in the service of a different goal: exposing instances of CCP harassment and identifying United Front agents who can be tied to surveillance and manipulation. Documentation of how the CCP promotes its agenda through the UFWD and other entities would allow members of the diaspora to avoid unwittingly serving the CCP’s interests. Since the CCP tends to exert influence on the diaspora through a relatively small group of United Front-affiliated men and women, rapid identification and exposure of these individuals could undercut the Party’s preference for operating in the shadows. Public-facing efforts by the American government to expose CCP manipulation of the diaspora are also likely to harden international public opinion against the CCP.62 An interagency working group modeled on the AMWG would draw on the resources of the intelligence community to gain awareness of how the CCP operates within the diaspora, then work to ensure that any public claims could be backed up by unclassified evidence. As in the 1980s, the agencies responsible for publicizing findings would depend on the intended audience. For “truth squad”-style outreach to foreign governments with significant populations of ethnic Chinese people, the Department of State should lead the effort, while the U.S. Agency for Global Media is the most natural candidate to disseminate findings to both the American and international public. Just as congressional pressure was instrumental in laying the foundation for the AMWG, congressional support will be critical to overseeing a United Front-focused group’s campaign of public diplomacy; conducting outreach to ethnic Chinese people living in the United States will require coordination at a local, state, and national level.63 


The CCP’s qiaowu approach is built on the same principles that have helped the Party in its competition with the United States and other democratic adversaries: long-term covert exploitation of vulnerable groups using authoritarian tactics of control and enabled by a combination of Western apathy and ignorance. Precisely because of this, a relatively limited investment by the U.S. government to protect those most vulnerable within the diaspora and undermine the CCP’s ability to influence all overseas Chinese could have a significant impact. The vicious nature of CCP tactics against overseas populations and the degree of control that the Party seeks mean that asymmetric, low-cost measures like public exposure and establishing private channels of communication can be disproportionately effective. The moral aspect of protecting Chinese Americans in particular from targeted harassment should also establish bipartisan support at home and encourage allied coordination, as long as the issue is framed correctly. Achieving the benefits of a successful counter-qiaowu strategy will require high-level political leadership to enable bureaucratic innovation, savvy messaging to gain support from the American public and undercut any accusations that the United States is manipulating or discriminating against ethnic Chinese people, and sustained outreach to diaspora communities to build trust. By investing the resources necessary to safeguard the Chinese diaspora in America and support overseas Chinese across the globe, the United States can better compete with the PRC while living up to its core values. 


Image: A CCTV camera, from Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved from:, used under Wikimedia Commons.

[1] Alex Joske, “The Central United Front Work Leading Small Group: Institutionalising United Front Work,” Sinopsis, 4, 23 July 2019,

[2] Paul Charon and Jean-Baptiste Jeangene Vilmer, Chinese Influence Operations: A Machiavellian Moment, (IRSEM, October 2021),172, IRSEM%202021%20-%20Chinese%20Influence%20Operations%20144dpi.pdf.

[3] “Safeguarding Our Future: Protecting Government and Business Leaders at the U.S. State and Local Level from People’s Republic of China (PRC) Influence Operations,” The National Counterintelligence and Security Center, 5, 

[4] Oscar Almen, The Chinese Communist Party and the Diaspora, FOI-R–4933—SE, (FOI, March 2020), 25,–4933–SE; Gerry Groot, “The CCP’s Grand United Front Abroad,” Sinopsis, 3, 24 September 2019,; Abby Budiman and Neil G. Ruiz, “Key Facts about Asian-Americans,” Pew Research Center, 29 April 2021,

[5] Almen, The CCP and the Diaspora, 16-17. 

[6] James To, “Beijing’s Policies for Managing Han and Ethnic-Minority Chinese Communities Abroad,” Journal of Current Chinese Affairs 41, no. 4 (December 2012), 193. 

[7] Anne-Marie Brady, Magic Weapons: China’s Political Influence Activities under Xi Jinping, (Wilson Center, September 2017):8, 

[8] Joske, “The Central United Front Work Leading Small Group,” 4.

[9] Joske, “The Central United Front Work Leading Small Group,” 14.

[10] Alex Bowe, “China’s Overseas United Front Work: Background and Implications for the United States,” US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, 24 August 2018,; Alex Joske, Spies and Lies: How China’s Greatest Covert Operations Changed the World, (Melbourne: Hardie Grant Publishing, October 2022),7. 

[11] Almen, The CCP and the Diaspora, 42. 

[12] Groot, “The CCP’s Grand United Front Abroad,” 4. 

[13] James To, Hand-in-Hand, Heart-to-Heart: Qiaowu and the Overseas Chinese, (Doctoral Dissertation, University of Canterbury, 2009), v.; To, “Beijing’s Policies,”185.

[14] To, “Beijing’s Policies,” 185.  

[15] Audrye Wong, The Diaspora and China’s Foreign Influence Activities, (Wilson Center, 2022),614, 

[16] Charon and Vilmer, Chinese Influence Operations, 37.

[17] Jacqueline Deal and Ella Harvey, Weapons of Mass Persuasion, (Andrew W. Marshall Foundation, December 2022), 11, 

[18] Groot, “The CCP’s Grand United Front Abroad,” 8.

[19] Wong, The Diaspora and China’s Foreign Influence Activities, 615. 

[20] Wanning Sun and John Sinclair, ed., Media and Communication in the Chinese Diaspora: Rethinking Transnationalism, (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016), 7. 

[21] Charon and Vilmer, Chinese Influence Operations, 73. 

[22] Brady, Magic Weapons, 35. 

[23] Brady, Magic Weapons, 35.

[24] Brady, Magic Weapons, 37.

[25] Brady, Magic Weapons, 35; Wong, The Diaspora and China’s Foreign Influence Activities, 617.

[26] Brady, Magic Weapons, 4. 

[27] Almen, The CCP and the Diaspora, 37. 

[28] John Dotson, “The United Front Work Department Goes Global: The Worldwide Expansion of the Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China,The Jamestown Foundation, 9 May 2019, 

[29] To, Beijing’s Policies, 196. 

[30] Carsten Schafer, China’s Diaspora Policy under Xi Jinping: Content, Limits, and Challenges, (SWP, November 2022), 14, 

[31] Bowe, China’s Overseas United Front Work, 10. 

[32] Rachelle Peterson, Flora Yan, and Ian Oxnevad, After Confucius Institutes: China’s Enduring Influence on American Higher Education, (National Association of Scholars, June 2022),27, 

[33] Groot, “The CCP’s Grand United Front Abroad,”6. 

[34] To, Beijing’s Policies, 202. 

[35] Charon and Vilmer, China’s Influence Operations, 167.

[36] Charon and Vilmer, China’s Influence Operations, 551. 

[37] Nate Schenkkan and Isabel Linzer, Out of Sight, Not Out of Reach: The Global Scale and Scope of Transnational Repression, (Freedom House, November 2021), 20, 

[38] Schenkkan and Linzer, Out of Sight, 15. 

[39] Schenkkan and Linzer, Out of Sight, 20. 

[40] Justice Department Press Release, “People’s Republic of China Citizen Arrested for Stalking,” 14 December 2022, 

[41] Brian Wong, “Enough. Those of U.S. Caught in the Middle of U.S.-China Tensions must Speak Now,” Time, 26 September 2022, 

[42] Albert Zhang, #StopAsianHate: Chinese Diaspora Targeted by CCP Disinformation, (Australian Strategic Policy Institute, July 2021), 

[43] Bowe, China’s Overseas United Front Work, 8. 

[44] Bowe, China’s Overseas United Front Work, 8. 

[45] Masood Farivar, “FBI Investigating Chinese ‘Police Station’ in New York,” Voice of America, 18 November 2022, 

[46] Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, “Exclusive: How the FBI Combats China’s Political Meddling,” 12 February 2020, 

[47] David McKeague, “Modernizing Security Measures to Protect Federal Judges and Their Families,” Judicature 104, no. 3, (Fall/Winter 2020-21): 54. 

[48] Sun and Sinclair, Media and Communication in the Chinese Diaspora, 7. 

[49] Cook, Beijing’s Global Media Influence, 33-34. 

[50] Scott Kamen, Competing Visions: The CIA, the Congress for Cultural Freedom, and the non-Communist European Left, 1950-1967, (Master’s Thesis: Western Michigan University, 2008), 12. 

[51] Michael Hoschgeschwender, “A Battle of Ideas: The Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) in Great Britain, Italy, France, and West Germany,” in Dominic Geppert, ed., The Postwar Challenge: Cultural, Social, and Political Change in Western Europe, 1945-1958 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 337.

[52] Hoschgeschwender, “A Battle of Ideas,” 321. 

[53] “National Endowment for Democracy Annual Report 1985,” 19,

[54] John Lenczowski, “Political-Ideological Warfare in Integrated Strategy,” in Douglas Streusand, ed., Architecture of Triumph: The Grand Strategy that Won the Cold War, (London, UK: Lexington Books, 2016), 128. 

[55] Lyssa White, Asia Regional 2021, 10 February 2022, 

[56] USAGM FY2024 Congressional Budget Justification, 13 March 2023, 

[57] Michael Ploetz and Hans-Peter Muller, Ferngelenkte Friedensbewegung?: DDR und UdSSR im Kampf gegen den NATO-Doppelbeschluss, (Munster, DE: LIT Verlag, 2004), 33.

[58] Megan Ward, Shannon Pierson, and Jessica Beyer, Formative Battles: Cold War Misinformation Campaigns and Mitigation Strategies, (Wilson Center, August 2019), 7,  

[59] Fletcher Schoen and Christopher Lamb, Deception, Disinformation, and Strategic Communications: How One Interagency Group Made a Major Difference, (Washington, D.C.: Institute for National Strategic Studies-National Defense University, 2012), 42, 

[60] Lenczowski, “Political-Ideological Warfare,” 118. 

[61] Schoen and Lamb, Deception, Disinformation, and Strategic Communications, 6. 

[62] Laura Silver, Christine Huang, and Laura Clancy, How Global Public Opinion of China has Shifted in the Xi Era, 28September 2022, 

[63] Schoen and Lamb, Deception, Disinformation, and Strategic Communications, 20. 

Related Posts