BEIJING – A top Chinese leader called Saturday for continued efforts to rally non-mainland ethnic Chinese, including those overseas, around the country’s national interests and help realize President Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream” of national rejuvenation.
The comments from Yu Zhengsheng come amid heightened Western scrutiny of the Communist Party’s attempts to exert control and influence abroad, including over the Chinese diaspora in countries like Australia and the United States.
In a speech at the opening of a largely ceremonial political advisory conference, Yu said the advisory body has “meticulously” worked to enhance patriotism among young people in Hong Kong and Macau as well as those farther abroad with invitations to visit China and outbound delegations.
He said he was seeking to “mobilize all the sons and daughters of (ethnic Chinese) to work together for the greater national interests and the realization of the Chinese Dream,” referring to Xi’s nationalist vision of China as the pre-eminent global power.
China’s Communist Party has long claimed sovereignty over the self-governing island of Taiwan — and a degree of authority over all ethnic Chinese, regardless of nationality — but its attitude toward the Chinese diaspora has been a source of growing friction with foreign governments over the past year.
In Australia and the United States, law enforcement officials have warned about Chinese government attempts to influence national politics and public opinion, as well as monitor the activities and speech of Chinese students studying abroad.
In another instance, European officials were deeply alarmed after Chinese police detained and denied consular visits to a naturalized Swedish bookseller in a diplomatic standoff, with Chinese state media editorial deriding his Swedish passport as effectively meaningless.
The annual Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, headed by Yu since 2013, is mostly ceremonial but designed to present an image of a diverse, big-tent advisory body that includes non-Communist Party members, minority ethnic groups, business leaders, religious groups, artists, and representatives from Hong Kong and Macau all taking part in China’s governance. In opening speeches in past years, the chairman has often repudiated Western democratic concepts, such as the separation of powers, and issued warnings against formal independence for Taiwan.
Yu struck a less hawkish tone on Saturday, as he called for more overseas exchanges to “deepen solidarity and friendship with our compatriots in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan as well as overseas Chinese,” and efforts to build international goodwill around the Belt and Road transcontinental infrastructure project — Xi’s signature foreign policy initiative.
The advisory body will continue working domestically to “create a strong sense of community for the Chinese nation,” including among religious minorities and the country’s poorest citizens, he said.
The annual CPPCC meeting runs concurrently with the two-week session of the National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp parliament.
Economic issues typically dominate the conferences, but the sessions this year could be overshadowed by a controversial proposal to amend the constitution to remove term limits and allow Xi to remain in office indefinitely.
By Gerry Shih
The Associated Press