China's Influence & American Interests: Promoting Constructive Vigilance

Report of the Working Group on China's Influence Activities in the United States

November 29, 2018

The U.S.-China bilateral relationship has become increasingly adversarial. The expanse of the Chinese economy has loomed large for decades, but increasingly China’s growing military and international political power is at the forefront of Western policymakers’ minds. In order for the United States to effectively manage a competitive relationship with China, it is critical to understand Beijing’s motivations and varied methods for influencing American attitudes towards the PRC. These activities have grown more aggressive and expansive in recent years and threaten to undermine America’s capacity to independently learn about and engage with China.

The Hoover Institution at Stanford University, The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands, and the Center on U.S.-China Relations at Asia Society convened a Working Group of scholars and policy practitioners who have dedicated their professional lives to the study of China, Asia, and a diversity of political systems. Over the past year, these experts set out to survey the full scope of influence-seeking activities employed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

This report was published by the Hoover Institution Press and examines the CCP’s efforts to influence American institutions—including state and local governments, universities, think tanks, media, corporations, and the Chinese-American community. It differentiates between legitimate efforts, like public diplomacy, and improper interference, which demands greater awareness and a calibrated response.

Throughout the report, the Working Group articulates three principles to guide the response of government and various sectors to the CCP’s influence activities: commitments to transparency, integrity in maintaining the independence of American institutions, and reciprocity in pursuit of a productive relationship between China and the United States.

It is the hope of the working group that the findings of the report will help bolster democratic values and institutions in the United States and elsewhere and spur debate on how to engage with China today.

Among the report's findings:

  • The Chinese Communist party-state leverages a broad range of party, state, and non-state actors to advance its influence-seeking objectives, and in recent years it has significantly accelerated both its investment and the intensity of these efforts. While many of the activities described in this report are state-directed, there is no single institution in China’s party-state that is wholly responsible, even though the “United Front Work Department” has become a synecdoche for China’s influence activities, and the State Council Information Office and CCP Central Committee Foreign Affairs Commission have oversight responsibilities (see Appendix: “China’s Influence Operations Bureaucracy”). Because of the pervasiveness of the party-state, many nominally independent actors—including Chinese civil society, academia, corporations, and even religious institutions—are also ultimately beholden to the government and are frequently pressured into service to advance state interests. The main agencies responsible for foreign influence operations include the Party’s United Front Work Department, the Central Propaganda Department, the International Liaison Department, the State Council Information Office, the All-China Federation of Overseas Chinese, and the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. These organizations and others are bolstered by various state agencies such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council, which in March 2018 was merged into the United Front Work Department, reflecting that department’s increasing power.

  • In American federal and state politics, China seeks to identify and cultivate rising politicians. Like many other countries, Chinese entities employ prominent lobbying and public relations firms and cooperate with influential civil society groups. These activities complement China’s long-standing support of visits to China by members of Congress and their staffs. In some rare instances China has used private citizens and/or companies to exploit loopholes in US regulations that prohibit direct foreign contributions to elections.

  • On university campuses, Confucius Institutes (CIs) provide the Chinese government access to US student bodies. Because CIs have had positive value in exposing students and communities to Chinese language and culture, the report does not generally oppose them. But it does recommend that more rigorous university oversight and standards of academic freedom and transparency be exercised over CIs. With the direct support of the Chinese embassy and consulates, Chinese Students and Scholars Associations (CSSAs) sometimes report on and compromise the academic freedom of other Chinese students and American faculty on American campuses. American universities that host events deemed politically offensive by the Chinese Communist Party and government have been subject to increasing pressure, and sometimes even to retaliation, by diplomats in the Chinese embassy and its six consulates as well as by CSSA branches. Although the United States is open to Chinese scholars studying American politics or history, China restricts access to American scholars and researchers seeking to study politically sensitive areas of China’s political system, society, and history in country.

  • At think tanks, researchers, scholars, and other staffers report regular attempts by Chinese diplomats and other intermediaries to influence their activities within the United States. At the same time that China has begun to establish its own network of think tanks in the United States, it has been constraining the number and scale of American think tanks operations in China. It also restricts the access to China and to Chinese officials of American think-tank researchers and delegations.

  • In business, China often uses its companies to advance strategic objectives abroad, gaining political influence and access to critical infrastructure and technology. China has made foreign companies’ continued access to its domestic market conditional on their compliance with Beijing’s stance on Taiwan and Tibet. This report documents how China has supported the formation of dozens of local Chinese chambers of commerce in the United States that appear to have ties to the Chinese government.

  • In the American media, China has all but eliminated the plethora of independent Chinese-language media outlets that once served Chinese American communities. It has co-opted existing Chinese-language outlets and established its own new outlets. State-owned Chinese media companies have also established a significant foothold in the English-language market, in print, radio, television, and online. At the same time, the Chinese government has severely limited the ability of US and other Western media outlets to conduct normal news gathering activities within China, much less to provide news feeds directly to Chinese listeners, viewers, and readers in China, by limiting and blocking their Chinese-language websites and forbidding distribution of their output within China itself.

  • Among the Chinese American community, China has long sought to influence—even silence—voices critical of the PRC or supportive of Taiwan by dispatching personnel to the United States to pressure these individuals and while also pressuring their relatives in China. Beijing also views Chinese Americans as members of a worldwide Chinese diaspora that presumes them to retain not only an interest in the welfare of China but also a loosely defined cultural, and even political, allegiance to the so-called Motherland. Such activities not only interfere with freedom of speech within the United States but they also risk generating suspicion of Chinese Americans even though those who accept Beijing’s directives are a very small minority.

  • In the technology sector, China is engaged in a multifaceted effort to misappropriate technologies it deems critical to its economic and military success. Beyond economic espionage, theft, and the forced technology transfers that are required of many joint venture partnerships, China also captures much valuable new technology through its investments in US high-tech companies and through its exploitation of the openness of American university labs. This goes well beyond influence-seeking to a deeper and more disabling form of penetration. The economic and strategic losses for the United States are increasingly unsustainable, threatening not only to help China gain global dominance of a number of the leading technologies of the future, but also to undermine America’s commercial and military advantages.

  • Around the world, China’s influence-seeking activities in the United States are mirrored in different forms in many other countries. To give readers a sense of the variation in China’s influence-seeking efforts abroad, this report also includes summaries of the experiences of eight other countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, and the UK.

The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the participants in the workshop and do not necessarily reflect the views of the staff, officers, or Board of Overseers of the Hoover Institution, Sunnylands, Asia Society, or the participants’ affiliated institutions.

For press inquiries please contact the press officer at Hoover Institution Clifton B. Parker at 650-498-5204 or


George P. Shultz, Thomas W. and Susan B. Ford Distinguished Fellow, The Hoover Institution: "China seeks to influence how we think about China. Diamond and Schell tell us what to look for, how to discern illicit coercion from legitimate public diplomacy, and practical steps for governments, universities, corporations, and other institutions to respond to this challenge while respecting our core American values."


Full Report (PDF)


The report was launched with an event hosted by Hoover Institution.
November 29, 2018 
9:00AM - 11:00AM
Washington, D.C. 20005

To watch a recording of the launch event go here.


China specialists who long supported engagement are now warning of Beijing’s efforts to influence American society [Washington Post]

Engagement with China is failing. Time for ‘constructive vigilance.’ [Washington Post]

China’s ominous plan to ‘penetrate and sway’ the United States [Washington Post]

Scholars Warn of Chinese Influence Operations in U.S. [Wall Street Journal]

Beijing Is Pushing Hard To Influence U.S. Views Of China, Report Says [NPR]

China did not interfere directly in US elections, report says [Financial Times]

Age of 'innocent engagement' with China is over, warns new US report [Straits Times]

Study: China Engaging in Wide Campaign to Influence American Life [VOA News]

Report: China is Trying to Influence American Politics and Society [KQED]

China is coming for American freedoms, says controversial report [Inkstone]

Evaluating China’s Influence in the U.S. with “Constructive Vigilance” [China Digital Times]

US urged to consider bans on Chinese journalists and subsidise US businesses to counter Beijing’s influence campaign [South China Morning Post]

Chinese influence & American interests [Axios China]

Report Highlights Growing Funding, Scope of China's Overseas Influence Tactics [Radio Free Asia]

Beware Chinese interference, new US report says [The Australian]

Chinas Einfluss: Legal, illegal; legitim, illegitim? [Kurz gesagt - SWP]

New Zealand 'particularly vulnerable' to China: US think tank report [NZ Herald]

New Zealand offers potential for 'Chinese espionage' - Hoover Institution [Newshub]

Chinese influence & American interests: How Beijing infiltrated the US [Asian Correspondent]

美32中國通促防中共滲透 [Apple Daily]

Top China Experts Make Profound Turnabout, From Engagement to Vigilance [Epoch Times]

Roll Back China’s Soft-Power Campaign [Wall Street Journal]

“胡佛报告”夸大了中国对英影响力 [Financial Times Chinese]

Abroad or at Home, China Puts Party First [Foreign Policy]

From doves to hawks: why the US’ moderate China watchers are growing sceptical about Beijing [South China Morning Post]

China Gets Its Message to Americans but Doesn’t Want to Reciprocate [WSJ]

托马斯·芬加:关于《中国影响力与美国利益》报告的美国心态与中国误解 [Dunjiaodu]

Scholars urge ‘constructive vigilance’ on Chinese activities in the US [Asia Times]

Who’s Afraid of China’s Influence? [Project Syndicate]


U.S. Policy Toward China: Recommendations for a New Administration

Working Group Participants

This report grew out of a series of discussions over the past year and a half at the Hoover Institution, Sunnylands, and George Washington University in which the following scholars participated:

Robert Daly is Director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Larry Diamond is Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University.

Elizabeth Economy is the C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Gen. Karl Eikenberry (Ret.) is the Oksenberg-Rohlen Fellow, Director of the US-Asia Security Initiative and faculty member at Stanford University’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center.

Donald Emmerson is Director of the Southeast Asia Program and Senior Fellow Emeritus at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University.

Francis Fukuyama is the Mosbacher Director of the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, and Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University.

Bonnie Glaser is Senior Adviser for Asia and Director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Kyle Hutzler is an MBA candidate at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Markos Kounalakis is a foreign affairs columnist for the McClatchy newspapers and Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Winston Lord is a former US Ambassador to China and former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

Evan Medeiros is the Penner Family Chair in Asian Studies at the Georgetown University Walsh School of Foreign Service.

James Mulvenon is General Manager at SOS International.

Andrew J. Nathan is the Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science at Columbia University.

Minxin Pei is the Tom and Margot Pritzker ’72 Professor of Government and George R. Roberts Fellow at Claremont McKenna College.

Jeffrey Phillips is the Policy Director at The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands.

John Pomfret is a Washington Post journalist and author.

Orville Schell is the Arthur Ross Director of the Center on US-China Relations at Asia Society.

David Shambaugh is Gaston Sigur Professor of Asian Studies, Political Science & International Affairs and Director of the China Policy Program at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University.

Susan Shirk is Research Professor and Chair of the 21st Century China Center at the University of California San Diego’s School of Global Policy & Strategy.

Robert Sutter is Professor of Practice of International Affairs at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.

Glenn Tiffert is a Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Ezra Vogel is the Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences Emeritus at Harvard University.

Christopher Walker is Vice President for Studies and Analysis at the National Endowment for Democracy.

International Associates

Anne-Marie Brady is Professor at the University of Canterbury and a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.

Timothy Cheek is Director of the Institute of Asian Research, Louis Cha Chair in Chinese Research, and Professor of History at the University of British Columbia.

John Fitzgerald is an Emeritus Professor in the Center for Social Impact at Swinburne University of Technology.

John Garnaut is a political risk consultant to the Australian government and private sector and was Senior Advisor to former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Timothy Garton Ash is a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and Professor of European Studies at the University of Oxford.

Francois Godement is the director of the European Council on Foreign Relations’ Asia and China Program.

Bilahari Kausikan is a former Permanent Secretary of the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Richard McGregor is a Senior Fellow at the Lowy Institute and a journalist.

Eva Pils is Professor of Law at the Dickson Poon School of Law at King’s College London. 

Volker Stanzel is Vice President of the German Council on Foreign Relations and former German Ambassador to China and Japan.

The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the participants in the workshop and do not necessarily reflect the views of the staff, officers, or Board of Overseers of the Hoover Institution, Sunnylands, Asia Society, or the participants’ affiliated institutions.