Sister City Partnerships With China: Promoting the Chinese Regime’s Agenda Abroad

Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and Czech President Milos Zeman review a guard of honor on March 29, 2016, at the Prague Castle in Prague. (Michal Cizek/AFP via Getty Images)

In October, the city council of Prague voted to terminate its sister city relationship with Beijing.

Shortly after, Beijing announced it would also end the Friendship City agreement, which is one of the many treaties signed during Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to the Czech Republic in 2016. Chinese officials said they would stop direct flights between China and Prague, and terminate financial support for the Slavia Praha football club in Prague.

While Zdenek Hrib, who was elected mayor of Prague in November 2018, repeatedly asked Beijing to remove a clause in the Friendship Agreement that read, “Supporting One-China Policy, Taiwan belongs to China,” he never received a response.

The “one China” policy asserts that there is only one sovereign state under the name of China. The Chinese regime views Taiwan—officially called the Republic of China—as a renegade province to be united with the mainland in the future, with military means if necessary. Taiwan is a self-ruled island with its own democratically elected government, military, and currency, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has sought to undermine Taiwan’s international standing by pressuring countries to accept the one-China policy and drop diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

Meanwhile, Taiwan asserts that it is the sole legitimate “republic of China.”

Officials in Prague, which was the first city to publicly challenge the “one China” policy clause written in the sister city agreement, raised an important question. Why should anybody write the “one China” clause into a sister city agreement? A diplomatic relationship between two countries is mutual recognition of their competence—which is stated clearly when the two nations agree to establish ties.

China–U.S. diplomatic relations, for example, are based on the “Three Joint Communiques” signed in 1972, 1979, and 1982. Exceeding this scope violates the basic principles of diplomatic recognition.

A city has no diplomatic authority. Prague, or other cities in the Czech Republic—or any city in the world, for that matter—has no obligation or power to intervene in the foreign affairs of a nation. That the “one China” policy is written into sister city agreements seems unnecessary, but it’s actually how the CCP transcends diplomatic authority and directly influence other countries’ internal affairs.

“Citizen diplomacy” is how Beijing describes its sister city partnerships. The Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC), which is a self-proclaimed nongovernmental organization in charge of promoting ties between Chinese and foreign cities, counts senior Party officials among its ranks, and is a proxy of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In this way, in addition to the official embassy and consulate, CCP foreign affairs agencies have added a quasi-diplomatic organization that isn’t on the list of diplomatic envoys and isn’t regulated by foreign governments.

The friendship city can thus be co-opted to perform the CCP’s tasks—beyond diplomacy—without being noticed. One of those tasks is “united front work”—the Chinese regime’s term for efforts to influence people and organizations overseas to promote its agenda. In Chinese provinces and cities, efforts to promote “friendship” ties are coordinated by the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), one of the Party’s chief organs for united front work.

Another less noticeable function of a friendship city is inadvertently exporting the CCP’s human rights violations and religious persecution. In a 2017 Party document, titled “Working Points of the Henan Provincial Party Committee’s Leading Group for Preventing and Handling Heretical Teachings,” a section is devoted to the role of friendship cities.

“(We must) fully utilize the channels of friendship cities, improve the quality of the work of friendship cities, and effectively suppress Falun Gong’s space for activities outside the country,” it states. Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a spiritual meditation practice that has been severely suppressed by the Chinese regime since 1999. Its adherents continue to be harassed, imprisoned, and tortured for their faith.

Since provincial Party committees don’t directly draft foreign policies, this can only mean that the directive was an order from the senior leadership in Beijing. That is to say, the CCP’s persecution of Falun Gong has been exported to the whole world through the friendship city project.

Regarding the “one China” policy, there are actually no clear boundaries in the international arena. When the United States and China first used the term in their Joint Communique, they already had differences. China called it the “one China” principle, while the United States refers to it as the “one China” policy. The United States acknowledges the “one China” positions of both the Chinese regime and Taiwan, but doesn’t recognize Taiwan as a sovereign country. It has, however, maintained robust ties with the island, chiefly through supplying arms for its self-defense—often drawing ire from Beijing.

The situation in other countries is similar. Disputes have occurred over the interpretation of “one China,” as the CCP often dictates when and how it’s applied.

The breakdown of the Prague–Beijing agreement is one such instance, while a demand by China’s aviation authority that international airlines change references to “Taiwan” is another; there’s also the punishment of Taiwanese entertainers for simply showing the Taiwan flag. The red lines have always been drawn and changed by the CCP, and never by the United States or any other Western countries.

Prague was the first to say “no” to CCP’s arbitrary definition and application of the policy.

The United States and other Western countries need to carefully check whether the friendship city agreements between their cities and their Chinese counterparts—and their daily activities—conform to their domestic laws; pose a national security threat; or violate the freedom of religious belief and human rights of their citizens and residents.

Another Chinese institution worthy of attention is the Council for the Promotion of Peaceful National Reunification (CPPNR). This is an organization that is very suspicious from name to function, and has a presence throughout the United States and the rest of the world.

There are 37 branch organizations in the United States, according to the CPPNR’s official website. If this organization’s mission is to promote the policy, as it states on its website, it should be operating in countries that still maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan. However, all the CPPNR branches are based in countries that have already have formal diplomatic relations with the Chinese regime. What’s the purpose of having these CPPNRs in those countries?

Secondly, according to CCP rhetoric, “unification” is a internal Chinese affair. So why should CPPNRs set up branches in foreign countries on an issue that’s entirely a China internal affair? Isn’t the Chinese regime itself inviting foreign countries to interfere in its internal affairs? Or is it that the CCP lacks self-confidence and needs to set up such organizations to invite foreigners to endorse its policies?

Think tanks such as the Hoover Institution have pointed to CPPNR as part of the Chinese regime’s united front efforts, having established “nongovernmental fronts overseas.”

What CPPNRs do in the United States is suspicious; they don’t organize any activities related to domestic affairs in the host country. All CPPNRs carry out Beijing’s agenda.

If they exist to influence U.S. foreign policy, they should be registered as lobbying groups. However, only two of the 37 CPPNR branches are located in Washington. Whom are they lobbying in Guam and Puerto Rico, where they have local chapters? If not for lobbying, what are they doing?

This is a typical example of how the CCP uses the democracy and freedoms of Western countries to export its own values. Because the purpose of these organizations is to promote the CCP’s policies, the United States should require that they register with federal authorities as foreign agents.

From The Epoch Times

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