The Chinese Influence Effort Hiding in Plain Sight

In centuries past, Prussian, Napoleonic, Nazi, and Allied soldiers all tramped the Strasse des 17. Juni, an east–west boulevard traversing Berlin’s leafy Tiergarten park, over which soars a winged, golden statue of the Roman goddess Victoria.

More recently, in the auditorium of the Technische Universität Berlin, which lies along the thoroughfare, a thousand patriotic voices swelled in song for a different rising power: China.

“Though I live in a foreign country, I cannot change my Chinese heart,” the mostly doctoral-level science students chorused to images of the Great Wall rolling onstage in a karaoke version of “My Chinese Heart,” a Chinese Communist Party–approved classic. “My ancestors long ago branded ‘China’ on everything in me!” they sang.

The Lunar New Year gala, in late January, was a glitzy, occasionally ear-splitting affair organized by half a dozen Chinese student associations at top universities in Berlin and Brandenburg state, which encircles it. On the program: Dance, music, kung fu, jokes about the German weather (too gray and wet), prizes (Huawei electronics and bottles of baijiu, a strong Chinese liquor)—and a message from Shi Mingde, the outgoing Chinese ambassador to Germany.

Shi Mingde (Axel Schmidt / Reuters)

“I hope you will not disappoint the ardent expectations of Secretary-General Xi Jinping and our motherland,” Shi said. “Turn patriotic feelings into patriotic deeds … tightly tie your own ideals to the destiny of the motherland!” And in an account of the evening published by the Chinese embassy in Berlin, he continued: “Bring science and technology back home, to push forward China’s economic and social development!”

[Read: China has been running global influence campaigns for years]

On the face of it, the event was unremarkable, a party to usher in the Year of the Pig. Yet it had deeper meaning: In addition to organizing parties and cultural events, the 80 Chinese student associations in Germany, which represent 60,000 students from the People’s Republic of China, are pieces of a Europe-wide puzzle of organizations. Perhaps numbering in the thousands, and meticulously fit together by Beijing, these associations support the Chinese Communist Party’s ideology and goals—and its narrative about China—among both Chinese and Europeans, and try to ensure its overseas citizens, and others of ethnic Chinese descent, are loyal.

Like mushroom tendrils spreading unseen for miles beneath the forest floor, this network remains largely invisible to Europeans and their leaders, who broadly lack …read more

Source:: The Atlantic – Global

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