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China’s secret weapon

Unrestricted Warfare and the United Front

21 09 21.China

China is increasingly trying to lure foreign universities, politicians and businesspeople with investment opportunities that are hard to resist. These can seem like legitimate transactions between parties that stand to mutually benefit. Not so, argues Finn Lau, a political exile from Hong Kong and a victim of a brutal attack in London that he believes was politically motivated. Lau’s first-hand experience of the CCP’s tactics make him alert to a strategy that few have heard of: the United Front, an attempt to neutralize countries and institutions that might pose an economic or political threat to China. 

 

In 2020 then Prime Minister David Cameron pushed to establish a $1-billion UK-China Investment Fund. The University of Cambridge also set up a centre dedicated to Chinese research with close ties to Huawei. Meanwhile an influential UK chamber known as the 48 Group Club was alleged for having close ties with Xi Jingping and the Chinese Communist Party. What’s behind these close ties of the British establishment with China? Are these legitimate transactions, or is something more insidious going on?

United Front (統戰) is a tactic that has been adopted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since the 1920s and its Beijing regime since 1949. It originated from Soviet Russia after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and has constantly evolved under the totalitarian Beijing regime for decades. In essence, the United Front tactic perfectly blends “Divide-and-Conquer” and “Carrot-and-Stick” into one strategy via the prioritisation of resources to tackle targeted enemies. Nowadays, the CCP makes use of money to lure and befriend scholars, politicians and businessmen in different developed countries, and create conflicts among those who are happy to accept Chinese donations and those who refuse. To minimise suspicion, CCP agents typically hold different titles to hide their real position in the Beijing regime. The world needs to become aware of this strategy and have no illusions about the lengths to which China is willing to go to cement its influence and power.

To the CCP, all universal values, individuals, entities, pressure groups, NGOs, countries and intergovernmental organisations are regarded as its enemies as long as they may threaten its economic self-interests and political dominance inside and beyond China.

 

The “Unrestricted Warfare” playbook

Mao Zedong, the founder of the CCP regime, was keen on identifying the so-called “principal contradictions”, like the conflict between different working classes, and non-principal contradictions. Based on his theory, the CCP has attempted to categorise its enemies (be it different working classes, domestic political camps or even foreign countries) into principal and non-principal enemies from time to time. Once the CCP identifies the principal enemies, it would then join up with and paralyse all non-principal enemies temporarily to focus on defeating the principal enemies. Once the process is completed, the CCP would move on to divide and re-categorise the previously non-principal enemies into smaller groups of principal and non-principal enemies again, and subsequently conquer the new, yet, weaker principal enemies until all of the CCP’s enemies are defeated. This technique sums up how Mao and Xi rose to power in the 20th and 21st century respectively. It also explains how Hong Kong lost its soul and fell into the hands of the CCP.

The United Front is the invisible, fifth key strategy under the Unrestricted Warfare framework adopted by the CCP.

To the CCP, all universal values, individuals, entities, pressure groups, NGOs, countries and intergovernmental organisations are regarded as its enemies as long as they may threaten its economic self-interests and political dominance inside and beyond China. 

Unrestricted Warfare (超限戰), on the other hand, is a relatively new, overarching strategy proposed by the CCP in a book in 1999. The Chinese term could be literally translated as “warfare beyond bounds” which systemically integrates a wide variety of tactics that could enable China to defeat technologically superior opponents like the US. Under the Unrestricted Warfare strategy, there are four basic kinds of tactics, including (1) Law warfare, also known as lawfare, (2) Economics Warfare, (3) Network Warfare and (4) Terrorism. The diversified nature of the framework reflects the complexity and wide range of tactics that the CCP is willing to adopt to defeat its opponents. It is also astonishing to see that the book titled “Unrestricted Warfare” bluntly named the US as China’s opponent. The Beijing regime has been more and more active in the international and geopolitical scenes, ranging from joining the World Trade Organization in 2003, to being elected as a key member of the UN Human Rights Council despite its poor record, launching the trillion-worth global “Belt and Road Initiative”, crushing autonomy and civil liberties in Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang, and preparing to be the first one to recognise the Taliban regime. The United Front is the invisible, fifth key strategy under the Unrestricted Warfare framework adopted by the CCP.

 

Lessons from Hong Kong’s fate

Hong Kong has long been a place that the CCP would use as a testing ground for the cutting-edge United Front approach. When compared to other regions under the CCP’s control, Hong Kong is the only city in which common law is practiced with English as one of the official languages. It also used to be a cultural hub between the East and West, thereby offering the CCP chances to improvise by trial-and-error. Once a United Front measure has proved effective in Hong King, the CCP would deploy similar or identical measures in foreign countries to tackle its enemies. After decades of trial-and-error, it has proved extremely effective in infiltrating academia first, followed by the private sector, and finally the political circle.

During the post-WWII period, the CCP was extremely keen at setting up pro-Beijing primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong, then territory governed by the UK government, to meet the surging demand of education after the Baby Boom. It turned these schools into efficient propaganda machines and nurtured a group of “patriotic” politicians and businessmen who are commonly known as “underground commies”. In 1967, students and graduates from CCP-controlled schools were encouraged and/or ordered to support Beijing’s satellite organisations, launching indiscriminate bomb attacks all over Hong Kong as an attempt to end the British rule and to echo with the outrageous Cultural Revolution in China. The bloody 1967 Riot ended in failure, but it created tremendous pressure on the British rule in Hong Kong as it demonstrated the outreach of CCP’s influence, paving the way for Beijing’s assertive negotiation with the UK in the 1980s over Hong Kong’s sovereignty.

Once a United Front measure has proved effective in Hong Kong, the CCP would deploy similar or identical measures in foreign countries to tackle its enemies.

In the late 1970s to 1990s, Hong Kong manufacturers and businessmen were highly encouraged and often invited by the CCP to invest in China. The CCP set up different grass root organisations, chambers and political parties which consistently organised trips to China in the name of “cultural exchange”, “patriotism” and “working trips”. Through devoting countless resources and effort, the CCP reaped what it had sowed for years, appointed Tung Chee-hwa, a billionaire businessman in the Chinese shipping industry, as the first Chief Executive of Hong Kong (almost equivalent to a Prime Minister under the Westminster System) after the 1997 Hong Kong Handover. Since then, civil liberties, the rule of law and autonomy in Hong Kong are being dismantled one by one at an accelerating speed, resulting in the 2014 Umbrella Movement and the 2019 Hong Kong Revolution.

In 2020, Tung took one step further to form the largest United Front entity in Hong Kong history known as the “Hong Kong Coalition”, in which over 1,500 “social elites” joined hands to support the Beijing government in response to the 2019-20 prolonged protests in the city. Its members include former Chief Executives, legislators, judges, billionaires, principals from Hong Kong tertiary education, singers and even international movie actors like Jackie Chan. Notably, the group has launched different initiatives to support promulgation of the draconian Hong Kong National Security Law in June 2020, stifling the voices of millions of Hongkongers, shutting down the last pro-democracy Hong Kong newspaper and putting over 100 Hongkongers in jail since its promulgation. Nevertheless, under the United Front framework, once the pro-democracy camp is eradicated, it is only a matter of time before the CCP once again divides the Hong Kong Coalition into smaller groups of principal and non-principal enemies until Hong Kong is fully absorbed into China.

This is the painful lesson of Hongkongers. It is admittedly an uphill battle for us to resist the resourceful, one-party tyranny now. But it’s not too late for democracies and civil societies around the world to wake up and act. Every one of us is vital in that we should start being alerted to the CCP’s diversified tactics and infiltration. While investigative journalists are striving to reveal the CCP’s underground operation, we should pay attention to their investigation and reporting. As a starting point, it is highly recommended to watch a BBC TV programme -“China’s Magic Weapon” - which provides solid examples of how the United Front tactic work in the UK, US and Australia. To the political leaders around the globe, it is time to consider introducing a reward-and-punishment scheme to encourage universities like Cambridge to achieve a balanced mix of sources of income, instead of heavily relying on a single market in the Far East. The business world should also strategically review whether it is appropriate to put all its eggs in the same basket, aside from the severe crackdowns in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet. Afterall, the CCP never provides a free lunch. Hongkongers will continue to resist until others join us to turn the tide.

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