Transnational repression is a constant assault on people everywhere, as governments seek to silence dissenters, using methods such as assassinations, illegal deportations, abductions, digital threats, Interpol abuse, and family intimidation.
Everyday people who challenge authoritarian rule have become the targets.
The Chinese Communist Party runs a very intricate and comprehensive campaign of transnational repression around the world, with the aim of pressuring and exerting control over Chinese living outside of China.
To achieve this, the CCP targets many groups, such as multiple ethnic and religious minorities, including Uighurs, Tibetans, and Falun Gong practitioners, which together number in the hundreds of thousands globally. Also under attack are human rights activists, political dissidents, journalists, and thousands of Chinese now living abroad, accused of corruption.
CCP uses transnational repression
It will then use many tactics, such as digital threats, coercion by proxy, spyware, and co-operation with other countries to restrain exiles and return them to China.
Using its technological expertise, the CCP is able to carry out sophisticated hacking and phishing attacks.
WeChat is a messaging, financial services, and social media app used by overseas Chinese, and the CCP can control and monitor discussions among users.
Those overseas, including ethnic Chinese, Taiwanese, and others, can become targets if they support human rights or go against the CCP, by using intimidation, control, and at times physical methods.
CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping has advanced sweeping anti-corruption campaigns and speeches that have been leaked by members of the Politburo in security divisions have stressed the “overseas struggle” against enemies of the state must be prioritized.
Tracking Chinese citizens outside China
The CCP campaign has at its disposal massive technical capacity, and with the aggressive claims made against those opposed to the Party overseas, it has had a huge effect on the rights and freedom of both Chinese citizens and noncitizens overseas, including minority communities living in exile.
This transnational approach is nothing new, as Falun Gong practitioners, Uighurs, and Tibetans have faced constant reprisals both inside and outside China.
There also exists a web of proxy entities—like “anti-cult” associations in the United States, Chinese student groups in Canada, and pro-Beijing activists with organized crime links in Taiwan. They harass and physically attack critics of the CCP and religious or ethnic minority members.
The 6-10 Office is a security agency formed specifically to persecute Falun Gong, with the aid of local officials from different regions, with hackers and People’s Liberation Army carrying out spyware operations from within China. Often the practitioners’ families, still living in China will be threatened or physically abused as a means of pressuring those who fled the country.
Freedom House report
Freedom House reported that the CCP’s use of transnational repression poses a long-term threat to rule of law systems in other countries. This is because CCP’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 Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) describes it as a “network of [Chinese Communist] party and state agencies responsible for influencing groups outside the party, particularly those claiming to represent civil society.”
The CCP increased its efforts to control Uighurs, including those living abroad. In 2014, Xi ordered the CCP to increase its efforts against alleged “terrorism, infiltration, and separatism” in the Uighur-plurality region of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. In 2016, CCP officials began to round up Uighurs and other Muslims in the region for “re-education” camps. Passports were collected from Uighurs to prevent them from leaving the country.
China has used some of its most powerful spyware tools against Uighurs, developing malware to infect iPhones via WhatsApp messages. China has even hacked into telecommunications networks in Asia in order to track Uighurs, reported Freedom House.
In 2017, Uighurs around the world with Chinese citizenship were instructed to return to China; those who did often joined the over a million Uighurs housed in the camps.
For those who refused, or those inside China attempting to flee the repression, they were detained and often rendered or unlawfully deported to China.
Freedom House’s conservative catalogue of direct, physical attacks since 2014 covers 214 cases originating from China, far more than any other country. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg of the real numbers who have been physically attacked or harassed, taking away their basic right to freedom experienced outside of China in a foreign democracy.