CPC members encounter obstacles while trying to establish Party branches overseas

By Zhang Yu Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/28 18:48:44

Universities and State-owned enterprises with projects in Belt and Road countries are building Party branches abroad

Political differences are a major challenge for overseas Party branches trying to carry out activities

Experts say branches should uniquely adapt to each country according to local laws


A visitor takes a selfie while pretending to take the oath to join the Party during an exhibition marking the 95th founding anniversary of the Party in Shanghai, July 26, 2016. Photo: VCG

It was probably one of the most short-lived branches of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Just two weeks after Mu Xingsen, a Chinese associate professor now visiting the University of California, Davis, set up a Party branch at that campus, he folded the branch due to legal concerns.

Mu, originally from Dalian University of Technology in Northeast China's Liaoning Province, set up the branch along with six other visiting scholars from China on November 6, according to the South China Morning Post, hoping that it would help them strengthen their commitment to Communism.

But he shut it down right after learning about the US Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires any person in the US representing the interests of foreign powers in a "political or quasi-political capacity" to disclose their relationship with that foreign government as well as any information about related activities and finances.

Mu isn't the first Chinese scholar in recent years to attempt to build overseas Party branches. Many universities and State-owned enterprises have been developing Party branches abroad in an effort to boost the loyalty of overseas Party members.

Experts say the building and closing of Mu's branch shows the challenges of Party building in foreign countries.

"Theoretically, according to the Party constitution, as long as there are three Party members, a primary Party organization should be formed. But in foreign countries, this will depend on each country's laws and regulations," Su Wei, a professor at the Party School of the CPC Chongqing Municipal Committee, told the Global Times.

"The rising number of overseas Party branches is a new phenomenon, showing the growing influence of the CPC and China," Su said.

Campus communism

In 2012, the National University of Defense Technology established eight overseas Party branches for over 200 Chinese exchange students and visiting scholars, all CPC members, in over 20 foreign countries, according to the PLA Daily, the official newspaper of the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

Party members at these overseas branches are required to hand in a report about their thoughts every three months, participate in a group Party activity and hold a Party meeting once every half-year, then report their activities to the university's politics department.

The move, lauded by the newspaper as "worth learning," aimed to strengthen overseas students' Party conviction and help them "resist the corrosive influence of harmful ideologies."

The School of European and Latin American Studies at Shanghai International Studies University (SISU), which has students on exchange programs overseas, started setting up overseas Party branches in 2009 and now has organizations in countries including Spain, Portugal, Chile, Greece, Mexico, Italy and the Netherlands.

"With the increase in the percentage of students going abroad, the education and management of these floating Party members are faced with new challenges," reads an article explaining the purpose of Party branches on the School of European and Latin American Studies' website.

Wang Xinyue, a junior university student currently on an exchange program in the Autonomous University of Madrid, is the head of SISU's student Party cell in Spain.

The organization now has eight members, mostly probationary Party members in their junior and senior year at the university. "On a regular basis, we study Party theory according to the requirements of our higher Party branch in China, and write reports about our thoughts," Wang told the Global Times.

"During the 19th Party Congress, each of us studied Xi's report. We researched Spanish media's coverage of the congress and discussed their coverage online. We also held academic discussions, such as the translation of some phrases and sentences," she said.

Apart from studying Party theory, overseas Party cells are also responsible for promoting Party and government policies. In 2011, SISU's overseas Party cell members helped publicize China's 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15) through interviews and opinion polls conducted among foreigners. In 2013, they interviewed foreigners for their views on the new slogan "Chinese Dream."

Belt and Road challenges

Apart from university students and scholars, the growing presence of Chinese companies based in foreign countries through the Belt and Road initiative is also bringing opportunities and challenges to Party building.

"Whether these Chinese companies in foreign countries are State-owned or private, there are certainly Party members among their employees. As long as there are Party members, there should be Party organizations," Yang Yu, a professor at the Party School of the CPC Tianjin Municipal Committee, wrote in an article published in Tianjin's Party Branch Life magazine.

Yang wrote that Party building in overseas Chinese companies can provide political guidance for the companies and can serve as a "potent propeller" for the Belt and Road initiative.

Zheng Xuexuan, vice president of the China State Construction Engineering Corporation, the largest construction company in China by revenue with projects worldwide, wrote on Guangming Daily that the need for Party building in overseas branches is urgent.

"When employees leave their hometown and motherland for a long time and live in a strange environment … it is easy for their thoughts to fluctuate, posing challenges to the ideological and political work," he wrote.

"Chinese companies overseas often have multiple projects spanning years, providing difficulties to team management and supervision … This shows overseas companies have stronger needs for Party building, which is important for Belt and Road construction," Zheng noted.

But challenges abound. China Building Materials News, a newspaper about the Chinese construction industry, recently contacted several Chinese employees working on foreign construction projects, asking them how Party activities there are being carried out. Most answered that it is "very challenging" for Party activities to be carried out abroad due to political differences.

In China, hanging banners with Party slogans and showcasing photographs and stories of model Party members on walls are common traditional practices at large construction sites, especially in projects undertaken by State-owned corporations.

In foreign countries, however, such practices are often considered too sensitive or even outright banned due to differences in political and social systems. The heavy workload of overseas construction projects and the high mobility in personnel pose extra challenges to Party building.

Adapting to each country

Zheng wrote that overseas Party building should be carried out according to each country's laws.

"Party organizations which are not affected by the political environment of the countries they are in should carry out activities according to the requirement of their upper level [Party branches]," he wrote, adding that the content and standards of Party activities should be exactly the same as in China.

In countries where the political environment places constraints on Party activities, Party organizations should adopt innovative methods, such as pairing up Party cadres with Party members, old Party member with young, to impart Party ideology, he wrote.

Some companies are using new media to make Party activities accessible to their overseas members. Tianjin Julong Group, a palm oil producer with projects in Belt and Road countries such as Indonesia, for example, carried out Party activities such as Party knowledge quizzes and study groups through WeChat and QQ groups. China Energy Engineering Corporation, which has 99 sub-branches overseas, is also using video conferences, QQ groups and WeChat to convey the Party's messages to Party members abroad.

Newspaper headline: Branches abroad

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