China denies using citizens overseas to project influence abroad
Senior official says history and contributions of overseas Chinese should be recognised, not ‘slandered or belittled’
Beijing on Saturday denied ever using overseas Chinese citizens for political means, in a fresh rebuke of its Western critics at the opening of its biggest political event of the year.
The central government’s Overseas Chinese Affairs Office – responsible for Chinese citizens living abroad or returning from overseas – defended against accusations that Beijing has tried to project its influence in other countries via its people.
“China has never used its overseas compatriots or overseas Chinese affairs to do anything that would harm other countries’ interests,” Qiu Yuanping, director of the office, told reporters on the first day of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
“We believe that overseas Chinese’s history and actual contributions should be given full recognition, rather than being slandered or belittled.”
Her remarks came as suspicion grows globally about the way China and its ruling Communist Party has exported its influence in other countries.
Australia in particular has seen heightened wariness about the role China plays within its borders, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull decrying “disturbing reports about Chinese influence”.
Relations between the two countries have been tense following a series of controversies over Chinese influence, including a lawmaker stepping down after defending China’s position in the South China Sea and another senator resigning over links to Chinese political donors.
Other countries have expressed similar concerns. In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern noted the importance of staying “vigilant” against overseas influence after it emerged that local politician Jian Yang allegedly failed to fully disclose links to the Chinese Communist Party.
US politicians have also flagged worries about the Chinese state-run Confucius Institutes within its borders, accusing the organisations that promote language and culture of having a political edge.
But Qiu insisted that China has always been a “responsible great power” with a long history of exporting its people around the world. She said the government had always encouraged its overseas citizens to respect the laws and customs of other countries, and to integrate within their societies.
“We hope people will objectively and fairly look at overseas Chinese, respecting and safeguarding their legitimate legal rights,” she said. “The small number of people who speculated with accusations have, I think, ulterior motives and they should be harshly refuted.”
She made the comments after a spokesman for the top political advisory body on Friday hit out at depictions of China’s soft power campaign as one of “sharp power” that meddles in other nations’ affairs.
“When other countries engage in cultural exchanges, they are showing soft or smart power, but when it comes to China, it’s sharp power with motives,” CPPCC spokesman Wang Guoqing told reporters.