12:01 am HKT Aug 16, 2014
Tourists read Chinese newspapers on the banks of the Main River in Frankfurt, Germany. European Pressphoto Agency
One of the greatest movements of people in history is under way: travel out of China by vast numbers of students, business executives and tourists. More than 100 million crossed the border last year.
Everywhere they go, they will be shadowed by the Leninist state they leave behind. The Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council is in charge of ensuring their loyalty to China and the Communist Party. Their activities are known as qiaowu.
James Jiann Hua To, a New Zealand political scientist, is a foremost authority on China’s efforts to shepherd its overseas Chinese – the “thousand grains of sand.” He is the author of “Qiaowu: Extra-Territorial Policies for the Overseas Chinese.” China Real Time’s Andrew Browne spoke with him by email. Edited excerpts:
What’s the definition of qiaowu?
The purpose of qiaowu is to rally support for Beijing amongst ethnic Chinese outside of China through various propaganda and thought-management techniques. For the vast majority of the 48 million overseas Chinese around the world, many will be oblivious to qiaowu and its activity. The main target groups are those who are open to and even welcome receiving qiaowu and closer links to China and its foreign service, such as newer migrants or PRC students abroad.
How is qiaowu playing out amid the enormous increase in Chinese outbound tourism, emigration and study?
Firstly, a clear distinction must be made between Chinese nationals going and living overseas, and ethnic Chinese overseas. Beijing is very careful to ensure that it is not seen as interfering in foreign matters by way of a fifth column. However, because qiaowu work is so broad in scope, all ethnic Chinese are potential subjects of interest, and the distinction becomes quite blurred.