Concerns are growing over China’s systematic efforts to expand its political influence and interfere in democracies worldwide. Recent revelations point to a concerted campaign by Beijing to manipulate politics and elections across multiple Western nations.

Tactics involve mobilizing ethnic Chinese voters, donations to political campaigns, placing sympathizers in office, and controlling multilateral bodies. Much of this is attributed to the United Front Work Department, a shadowy entity of the Chinese Communist Party.

Allegations of Election Interference

In Canada, China allegedly interfered in recent federal elections to aid the Liberal Party. This prompted demands for an inquiry into foreign meddling. Australian leaders also accused China of blatant influence operations, including timing a security pact with the Solomon Islands to hurt the government’s reelection odds.

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Gaining Control of International Bodies

There are concerns China is trying to seize control of organizations like the UN and WHO to serve its interests. A UK report warned China wants to “weaponize” such bodies against their founding principles.

The Role of the United Front Work Department

The United Front Work Department (UFWD) plays a key role in China’s overseas influence activities. Despite criticism, President Xi Jinping has called the UFWD a “magic weapon” for exerting soft power. The UFWD mobilizes Chinese diaspora communities, donates to foreign politicians, and plants sympathizers abroad.

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Implications for Democracies

Experts worry China’s covert influence undermines open societies and sovereignty. Tactics like mass Chinese voter mobilization, aggressive diplomacy, and economic coercion threaten democratic values. Countries are responding with measures like foreign interference laws. But more may be needed to counter China’s sophisticated influence apparatus.

The revelations underscore deep concerns over China’s ambitions to shape politics beyond its borders. Democracies appear increasingly vulnerable to large-scale Chinese influence operations. Time will tell if they can sufficiently insulate domestic affairs from Beijing’s forms of sharp power.

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