|Type||Department directly reporting to the Central Committee|
|Headquarters||135 Fuyou Street, Xicheng District, Beijing|
Executive deputy head
|Bagatur*, Xu Lejiang*, Shi Dagang, Ran Wanxiang, Dai Junliang|
|Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party|
The United Front Work Department of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (UFWD; simplified Chinese: 中共中央统一战线工作部; traditional Chinese: 中共中央統一戰線工作部; pinyin: Zhōnggòng zhōngyāng tǒngyī zhànxiàn gōngzuò bù) is a department that reports directly to the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which gathers intelligence on, manages relations with, and attempts to influence elite individuals and organizations inside and outside China. The UFWD focuses its work on people or entities that are outside the Party proper, especially in the overseas Chinese community, who hold social, commercial, or academic influence, or who represent interest groups. Through its efforts, the UFWD seeks to ensure that these individuals and groups are supportive of or useful to Chinese Communist Party interests and that potential critics remain divided.
The United Front Work Department was created during the Chinese Civil War, and was reestablished in 1979 under paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. Since 2012, the role and scope of the UFWD has expanded and intensified under Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party.
United front policies were most used in two periods before the Chinese Communist Revolution, namely from 1924 to 1927, and from 1936 to 1945, when the CCP cooperated with the Nationalist Party ostensibly to defeat the Japanese. The simplest formulation of UF work in the period was to "rally as many allies as possible in order to... defeat a common enemy."
In the early years the CCP also used United Front policies to cooperate with "disaffected warlords, religious believers, ethnic minorities, Overseas Chinese, and "minor parties and groups," that is front groups for the Communist Party to appear democratic. The Party's united front strategies were effective against the Nationalists, when combined with military force, "ideological work," and alliance building, which eventually isolated the enemy.
The Party communist agitators were able to persuade "minor parties and groups" in China that the Nationalists were "illegitimate and repressive while the CCP embodied progress, unity, and democracy."
After seizing power the communists continued to deploy united front strategies to train new communist intellectuals, "and, using thought reform based on criticism, began the transformation of the old society intellectuals." This involved violent elimination of what were termed "bourgeois and idealistic political beliefs," to instil faith in "class struggle and revolutionary change." The CCP required the intellectuals to have "faith in class struggle and revolutionary change."
In the late 1970s the policy was used for the common cause of economic reform. From there the Party expanded the scope of its work internationally during the reform era, and again following the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. The department includes a bureau tasked with handling Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and overseas affairs, and articulates the importance of using overseas Chinese populations to promote unification. It played an important role in building support for "One country, two systems" in Hong Kong during the 1980s and 1990s, operating under the name of the "Coordination Department." The UFWD has been critically described as serving to co-opt non-Communist community leaders outside China, and "using them to neutralize Party critics," sometimes coercively.
Scholar of Chinese political history John P. Burns presents in his book The Chinese Communist Party's Nomenklatura System excerpts from internal party documents demonstrating the role of the UFWD. The UFWD is to "implement better the party's united front policy and to assess and understand patriotic personages in different fields... so that we can arrange for correct placements for them and fully mobilize and bring into play their positive role in the Four Modernizations and to accomplish the return of Taiwan to the motherland so as to fulfill the cause of uniting the whole country, and to carry forward and solidify the revolutionary, patriotic united front."
The UFWD was used in the early years of communist rule "to guarantee CCP oversight" over groups that were not directly associated with the Party and government. Those groups, including NGOs, were brought under the authority of the UFWD, whose job it was to “continuing to play its part in mobilizing and rallying the whole people in common struggle” after the Liberation in 1949. When the CCP "shifted its focus from the 'mass line' to 'class struggle', the real united front disappeared. While the United Front Department still existed, its duties of uniting with all forces for the 'common struggle' shifted mainly to serving the Party's leadership and 'consolidating the proletarian dictatorship'," according to Brookings Institution visiting fellow Zhang Ye. Based on their actions in Taiwan and elsewhere the United Front Work Department appears to be used as a cover to conduct intelligence operations against targets of interest to the CCP.
The UFWD is reported to have over 40,000 personnel and does not disclose its budget. It oversees and directs eight minor and subordinate political parties and the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce. It historically maintained a close relationship with the now-absorbed State Administration for Religious Affairs, which has overseen the country's five officially sanctioned religious organizations. In 2018, the United Front Work Department went through a reorganization in which it absorbed the State Administration for Religious Affairs and the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office to become two internal bureaus. The UFWD has also taken a leading role in antireligious campaigns in China under the official pretense of "sinicizing religions."
The UFWD also directs the State Ethnic Affairs Commission. As such, the UFWD is China's main agency overseeing and managing ethnic, religious and overseas Chinese affairs. The UFWD plays an active role in the sinicization of ethnic and religious minorities, particularly in Tibet, Inner Mongolia and of the Uyghurs through the Xinjiang internment camps. In 2020, shortly after the commencement of the 2020 Inner Mongolia protests, the UFWD issued a communique that stressed the need for all ethnic minorities in China to use Standard Chinese.
The Department has thirteen subdivisions, including nine bureaux (局 jú) and four other units:
Scholar Alex Joske has noted that there is no clear distinction between domestic and overseas UFWD activity and often overlap between the two. Scholar Martin Thorley has described the UFWD as being able to call upon a "latent network" of civic, educational, and non-governmental groups and affiliated individuals internally and abroad for its political purposes, especially in times of crisis. For instance, the UFWD uses members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and other organizations to carry out influence-building activities, often covertly. Researchers from Stanford University's Internet Observatory and the Hoover Institution describe the United Front as "cultivat[ing] pro-Beijing perspectives in the Chinese diaspora and the wider world by rewarding those it deems friendly with accolades and lucrative opportunities, while orchestrating social and economic pressure against critics. This pressure is often intense but indirect, and clear attribution is therefore difficult."
The UFWD and its affiliated front organizations have also served as cover for intelligence agents of the Ministry of State Security. Multiple national intelligence agencies have expressed concern that the mandate and operations of the UFWD can constitute undue interference in other nations' internal affairs. In their book Nest of Spies, de Pierrebourg and Juneau-Katsuya allege that the United Front Work Department “manages important dossiers concerning foreign countries. These include propaganda, the control of Chinese students abroad, the recruiting of agents among the Chinese diaspora (and among sympathetic foreigners), and long-term clandestine operations.”
The Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries has been described as the "public face" of the UFWD. Scholar Jichang Lulu noted that the UFWD and its proxy organizations "re-purpose democratic governance structures to serve as tools of extraterritorial influence." An Atlantic writer stated China runs thousands of linked and subsidized pro-government groups across Europe, to "ensure that its overseas citizens, and others of ethnic Chinese descent, are loyal", to "shape the conversation about China in Europe", and to "bring back technology and expertise", and that the UFWD plays a "crucial" role in this project. Scholar Jeffrey Stoff has argued that the CPP's United Front "influence apparatus intersects with or directly supports its global technology transfer apparatus."
In March 2018, it was announced that the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office would be absorbed into the United Front Work Department. With the absorption of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, the UFWD gained full control of the country's second largest state-run media apparatus, the China News Service. In 2019, the UFWD partnered with the Cyberspace Administration of China to promote united front work with social media influencers.
In April 2020, Global News reported that UFWD-linked organizations in Canada and other countries were activated in January 2020 to purchase, stockpile, and export personal protective equipment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in mainland China.
A 2018 report by the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission noted that the UFWD regularly attempts to suppress overseas protests and acts of expression critical of the Communist Party of China are a conspiracy against rights. In May 2020, the White House released a report titled "U.S. Strategic Approach to the People's Republic of China". That report stated that "CCP United Front organizations and agents target businesses, universities, think tanks, scholars, journalists, and local, state, and Federal officials in the United States and around the world, attempting to influence discourse and restrict external influence inside the PRC." In June 2020, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute issued a report advocating a multi-dimensional response involving law enforcement as well as legislative reform for greater transparency of foreign influence operations. The same month the Republican Study Committee in the United States called for sanctions on the UFWD and its top leadership.
In December 2020, the United States Department of State imposed visa restrictions on "individuals active in United Front Work Department activities, who have engaged in the use or threat of physical violence, theft and release of private information, espionage, sabotage, or malicious interference in domestic political affairs, academic freedom, personal privacy, or business activity." In January 2021, the head of the UFWD, You Quan, was sanctioned pursuant to Executive Order 13936 as a Specially Designated National by United States Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control.