Awareness of the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front is growing this week. As a report released by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute explained, the United Front network is a nebulous network reaching into various sectors of liberal democratic countries. Its affiliates work to influence civil society; they also track and bully members of the Chinese diaspora abroad, including on college campuses.
The Republican Study Committee took steps toward developing a response to the United Front’s activities in the United States Wednesday afternoon, when one of its task forces released a list of policy proposals on a range of national-security issues. The caucus, which comprises nearly 150 House Republicans, recommends that Congress extends to the president new authorities under the Global Magnitsky Act to target the United Front Work Department.
“Despite the fact that the United Front is not a violent entity nor engaged in terrorist attacks,” the task force writes, “it is a wing of the CCP that is involved in activities that threaten the United States.”
The Republican Study Committee might not have even needed this disclaimer to justify Magnitsky sanctions. As the ASPI report described, the United Front’s work abroad shares a link with human rights abuses taking place in China:
There’s no clear distinction between domestic and overseas united front work: all bureaus of the UFWD and all areas of united front work involve overseas activities…For example, the UFWD’s Xinjiang Bureau plays a central role in policy on Xinjiang but is also involved in worldwide efforts to whitewash the CCP’s internment of an estimated 1.5 million people in Xinjiang, primarily ethnic Uyghur Muslims, as an anti-terrorism and vocational training effort.
The task force also recommends stricter reporting measures for other entities targeted by or involved in United Front activity, such Confucius Institutes, think tanks and nonprofits, and state-run media. These steps would shore up measures recently put in place, including a provision in the 2019 defense appropriations bill targeting Confucius Institutes and visa restrictions to prevent the theft of technology.
These proposals amount to an unprecedented push to counter the CCP’s influence in the United States. Following the report’s release, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, who reports on China for Axios, explained the extraordinary nature of these proposals. When she reported on the UFWD’s operations in the United States in 2017, she could not find a single source on the topic.
“So you can see why I find it so stunning that 150 Republican lawmakers are now recommending sanctions on top United Front Work Department officials,” she wrote on Twitter.
The gap between identifying the nature of the UFWD’s threat and acting on it has just narrowed considerably. And action on closing it is underway.