Xi Jinping urges Chinese Communist Party to step up efforts to ‘win hearts and minds’ in Hong Kong and Taiwan
- Chinese leader tells United Work Front Department – the body responsible for liaising with non-party groups – to reach out to ‘patriotic forces’ overseas
- Xi tells the group it will play an increasingly important role in safeguarding national sovereignty
Analysts said Xi’s call shows China’s ruling party is trying to update its playbook to ensure it remains effective and relevant.
“[We] must strengthen the building of overseas patriotic forces, cultivate and expand the strength of those who know China and are willing to befriend China, and promote exchanges and mutual learning of Chinese and foreign cultures and civilisations,” he said, according to state news agency Xinhua.
He told the conference the United Work Front faced “major changes” in its missions and tasks.
“Profound changes unseen in a century in the world are accelerating, and the United Front is becoming more important in safeguarding [China’s] national sovereignty, security and development interests,” Xi said.
“In building an all-round modern socialist country and realising the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, the role of the United Front … is even more important.”
This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the Communist Party launching its first United Front. It was later hailed by Mao Zedong as one of the “Three Magic Weapons” for the Communist Party’s victory, alongside party building and the Red Army.
“The United Front is an important magic weapon for the party to overcome the enemy, govern and rejuvenate the country, and it is an important magic weapon for uniting all Chinese sons and daughters at home and abroad to realise the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” Xi said.
“[We] must give full play to the role of the United Work Front in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and overseas, to win the hearts and minds of people.”
Other key directions from Xi included the sinicisation of religion in China, deepening efforts to reach intellectuals and people from new social groups who are not party members, upholding the party’s leadership and improving the political consultation system. He also urged officials to facilitate the healthy growth of the non-public sector.
Xi also urged cadres to learn to have tactical flexibility while “standing firm on political principles” when they are trying to forge consensus among the people within and outside China.
“[We] should not only stand firm in political positions and adhere to the political bottom line, but also analyse specific issues in detail, and pay attention to our ways of working,” he said. “[We] must grasp the relationship between unity and struggle, and we must also be good at struggle, strengthen our fighting skills, and strive to form an unbreakable true unity.”
Chinese premier Li Keqiang presided over the conference, which was also attended by all the Politburo Standing Committee members.
On Saturday, People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, also published a long article about how Xi managed Fujian province’s United Work Front during his stint there in the 1980s, urging the whole party to learn from its top leader.
The Central United Front Work Department is actively courting elites outside the party to ensure their political loyalty, and cultivating ties with overseas Chinese, and especially with people in Hong Kong and Taiwan, to exert China’s influence. It is also tasked with managing relations with the country’s ethnic minorities and religious groups to implement the party’s vision of a common national identity, particularly in Tibet and Xinjiang.
After decades of relatively low-profile work abroad, the department has recently been thrust into global attention as Western counties become increasingly concerned about the United Front’s influence over overseas Chinese communities.
Xi’s speech shows the party is looking for new ways to maintain and strengthen its influence in light of this trend, according to Xie Maosong, a senior fellow at the Taihe Institute think tank and a senior researcher at the National Institute of Strategic Studies at Tsinghua University.
“In the past few years, Xi has called a series of important meetings such as the Central Tibet Work Symposium, Xinjiang Work Symposium, the Central Ethnic Work Conference, and the National Religious Work Conference. This recent top united front conference basically sums up all the previous meetings and the key directions will chart the party’s relevant works for the next decade or longer,” Xie said.
“Xi makes it very clear that he will not only keep the party’s ‘magic weapon’, but also fit it with new edges, including how to win over the hearts and minds of cyberspace.
“Another challenge is to find new ways to continue to deepen its connections with the new generation of overseas Chinese, who are born in Hong Kong, Taiwan and other places, having very little knowledge of China and have a different education and a different set of world views.”