No Chinese influence yet, but the foundation is laid

The Dutch government should set up a warning system for Chinese influence in the Netherlands. For example, Chinese-Dutch organisations receiving a delegation from the Chinese Communist Party should report it to the Dutch government. Organisations that advocate stronger links between the Netherlands and China need to be investigated more closely.

This argues the Leiden anthropologist and Chinakenner Frank Pieke, who, on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, looked at the influence of the Chinese state and the Chinese Communist Party on Chinese-Dutch organisations. The research was presented on Tuesday by the Leiden Asia Centre.

At

the moment there is no question of harmful interference in Dutch society, says Pieke. However, he sees that the Chinese state has tried to strengthen ties with the overseas diaspora in recent years.

The basis for harmful effects has been laid, as has previously been the case in Australia and Germany, among others. The potential for actual interference is present, writes Pieke.

Check out how Chinese influence works in the United States, Europe and the Netherlands:

Pieke advocates stricter rules for the activities of the Chinese Communist Party in the Netherlands. Seclusive party activities should be banned.

The Chinese media offer should also become more pluriform. Chinese-language media now mainly give room to the official party sound. According to Pieke, alternative sounds hardly penetrate the community: โ€œNewspapers are reporting about China from Beijing. If they didn‘t spread that, they’d lose their market. One might expect newspapers that are loyal to Beijing.โ€

Chinese media in the Netherlands assure that the Chinese government has no influence on the content. โ€œWe are completely independent, we decide what we publish. That is definitely not determined by the Chinese embassy. Of course, we do take a lot of things into account, for example not to offend certain target groups,โ€ says Atom Zhou, publisher of the China Times, whose editors are based in Chinatown, The Hague.

The China Times LinkedIn page says that the newspaper is โ€œapproved and supportedโ€ by the Chinese Embassy. Zhou: โ€œThis has a business reason for us. It‘s smart to say that the newspaper is also available at the Chinese embassy.โ€

Signal function

Pieke advises the government to restart the dialogue with the Chinese-Dutch community. The dialogue was practically closed after the end of the so-called Minority Consultation in 2011.

The anthropologist himself spoke for his research with more than thirty leaders of Chinese or Chinese-Dutch organisations and associations in the Netherlands. He also studied the most important Chinese media and social media channels in the Netherlands.

Since President Xi Jinping took office in 2013, China seems to want to strengthen ties with the Chinese diaspora. China-watchers see an explicit role for the United Front, a party body whose task, among other things, is to demonstrate the ideology of the Communist Party outside China.

In Australia, the US and Germany, intelligence services have seen unwanted United Front activities in recent years. The Dutch intelligence services also warned in February about political influence operations from China, among others.

Last year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs funded an investigation into the United Front by the Australian think tank ASPI.

Easy target

According to Pieke, it is very important that the Dutch government takes steps quickly. He considers it equally important that the Chinese population groups should not be alienated from the Netherlands. Since the outbreak of the coronacrisis and with the increased geopolitical tensions, many Chinese Dutch people have claimed to experience more discrimination than before. Pieke therefore warns not only of the consequences of unwanted influence, but also of the danger that Chinese Dutch people feel excluded. That’s exactly what would make them an easier target for Chinese influence.