In Europe, China Sees an Opportunity for Promoting its Ideology

In recent years, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has ramped up its use of censorship, "re-education," and other forms of propaganda in an attempt to reinforce loyalty to the Party among the Chinese public. According to a new report published by the Berlin-based think tank Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS), the CCP has now added another tool to its arsenal: its influence elsewhere in the world.

Mareike Ohlberg, a research associate at MERICS, discussed the report's findings on China's ideological ambition overseas during a panel discussion at Asia Society on Thursday.

“When the CCP talks about the fear of ideological infiltration, I think a lot of it is genuine,” Ohlberg said. “In order for the CCP to stay in power, it needs a more permanent source of legitimacy other than just economic development, which can falter, or nationalism, which can turn against [them].”

In one of his early speeches as China's president, Xi Jinping discussed three specific factors that contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union: a failure to control the military, a failure to control corruption, and a failure to control ideology. Policy developments in those areas under Xi show that the CCP does not intend on making the same mistakes.

The timing to set this in motion couldn't be better for China — particularly in Europe. Unlike Africa and Asia, where China has made significant economic inroads, Europe has proven to be a less hospitable arena, due in part to the region’s long-standing and close alliance with the United States. However, with Washington adopting a more hands-off approach under President Donald Trump, China is hoping to seize an opportunity.

“The CCP sees a chance to divide and conquer,” Ohlberg said.

But Kristin Shi-Kupfer, a MERICS colleague and co-author of the report who also appeared at the Asia Society discussion, warned that not all Chinese attempts to gain influence should be seen as dangerous.

“We must differentiate between the CCP,  the Chinese state, and the Chinese people,” Shi-Kupfer said.

Watch the full conversation below:

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Michelle FlorCruz is a Content Producer at Asia Society. She was previously a reporter for IBTimes.com, focusing on stories relating to business and culture in China and other areas of Asia.