In Hong Kong,China’s United Front includes the billionaire property tycoons.

As the tension between Australia and China is on the rise, there is often a reference to one organisation in China – the United Front (UF).

In some Western news stories about China, UF is often presented as a threat in the same way the Red under the Bed was used during the Cold War. But what is UF and who are involved? This is a sequel to my last piece on UF, which was titled “The Chinese United Front Strategy: Its History and Present. MOBO GAO. The Chinese United Front Strategy: Its History and Present.

The concept and strategy of the UF by the CCP had a long history and is a strategy aimed at uniting as many sectors of the society as possible for its cause. The category of people the UF intends to unite are not the broad masses of people in the street but prominent political or cultural or business figures.  The first United Front formed by the CCP was with the KMT, the CCP’s deadly rival, in the 1920s to fight the Northern warlords to end China’s chaotic civil wars. The second United Front was formed during the 1930s, again with the KMT, to fight the Japanese invasion. Subsequently in the late 1940s during the civil war between the CCP and KMT the CCP practised its UF policy to win sympathy for its cause from the left-wing or dissident fractions of the KMT, such Song Qingling, widow of the founder of the KMT, Sun Yet-san, and leaders of non-allied parties, such as Zhang Bojun of the Democratic Alliance and Huang Yanpei of the Chinese Democratic Nationalist Society.

From its history, we can see that the UF is not meant to be a covert spying activity but a very open strategy to unite all the can be united for some common purpose. From the perspective of the CCP, the UF shows its willingness to embrace differences and to have as many friends as possible. The following is what I wrote in my last piece

One could argue that this strategy enabled the CCP to have influence and control of the targets of the UF. However, from another perspective, the UF enables other sectors of the society to have influence, however minimum and limited, on the CCP. Open opposition and public criticism of the CCP and the Chinese government might not be allowed but private and behind door advices and consultation from non-CCP sources is part of the Chinese governance. That is why, as an UF strategy, non-CCP celebrities and wealthy business elite, not only inside the mainland but also of Hong Kong and Taiwan backgrounds were accepted into the Chinese People’s Congress.

Historically, the UF has been successful: it worked in the 1920s in the CCP cause of fighting the warlords, together with the KMT; it worked in the 1930s in the CCP cause in fighting the Japanese, again together with the KMT; it helped, though very hard to measure, in the 1940s in the CCP cause in fighting the KMT. It is no wonder that the CCP likes the UF policy and some of its leaders have said something like “the UF is a fabao” (a Buddhist term meaning something that works wonders, but often translated as “magic weapon”).

Nowadays the CCP UF policy is mainly practised in two ways. Domestically, it incorporates the personalities and prominent people in the field of business, literature and arts and academia, such Hong Kong property tycoons, who are NOT members of the CCP into the government organs, such as a minister of something, or a president of a university, or more often, a member of the People’s Congress. This is decoratively to demonstrate the CCP does not monopolize power though, in fact, it does. But this strategy does provide another source of policy input and a channel for policy outcome feedback in a formal as well as informal way.

As an international affairs policy the UF mainly aims to unite whoever possible for the cause of the unification of Taiwan. In order to make it more appealing and more effective the CCP employs the term “peaceful unification”. Hence there are such organizations, for, instance, existing in Australia called “Association for the Promotion of Peaceful Unification of Taiwan”. As I stated in my last piece on the subject, “it is possible that some Australians of Chinese ethnic background might have some connection with the Chinese government via the UF strategy, especially regarding the issue of Taiwan”. The CCP UF strategy aims at uniting as many ethnic Chinese community people, especially rich tycoons of Hong Kong background, as possible to support the unification of Taiwan”. I  pointed out then and I still hold it to be the case that “even for its own purpose, like its core aim of uniting overseas Chinese communities for a peaceful unification of Taiwan, there is no evidence that the CCP has succeeded in any way”.

The reason why the UF has not been successful and it does not have the “magic” anymore is that times have changed. The CCP’s strategy of working at the upper class, at the political, cultural and business elite like Hong Kong and Taiwan tycoons does not work anymore. The case of Hong Kong is an example. In order to get Hong Kong closer to mainland, the CCP has been working at the business elite in Hong Kong ever, more so since the handover in 1997. They have more or less gone to bed with Hong Kong tycoons. But the violent demonstration last year clearly shows that the CCP failed miserably. If they want to get the people of Hong Kong on its side the CCP should unite with the people in the street. It should get the Hong Kong government to reduce inequality and to introduce socio-economic policies that cater for the vast majority of people who feel unrepresented and uncared for.

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Professor Gao teaches Chinese studies at the Department of Asian Studies of the University of Adelaide. Gao's publications include several books, over a hundred book chapters and articles. Two of his books are case studies of Gao Village where he came from. Other books include the Battle of China's Past: Mao and the Cultural Revolution and Remembering Socialist China 1949 – 1976 which are reassessments of the Mao era and the Cultural Revolution. His latest book Constructing China: Clashing Views of the People’s Republic examines how and why different categories of people have different views of China.

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