United Front Work Department
The United Front Work Department (UFWD) is a functional organization of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee that is the top body in charge of cooperating with non-CPC bodies and individuals. Its functions include giving guidance to the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce and contacting overseas Chinese. The United Front Work Department provides support and services for Chinese private enterprises affiliated to the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce to carry out foreign exchanges and cooperation, and for overseas Chinese to participate in relevant countries’ exchanges and cooperation with China under Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era and the spirit of the 19th National Congress of the CPC.
The United Front Work Department (UFWD) is the functional department through which the enterprise or institution Party Committee carries out the united front work and it is the bridge through which the Party and administration leaders maintain ties with the non-Party intellectuals. Its basic function is to report the situation, grasp policies, coordinate relations and recommend talents. The main duties of the UFWD are to work out the Party Committee’s united front work plan and arrange its implementation; to be in charge of contacts with the non-Party intellectuals; to be responsible for selection, training and recommendation of the non-Party cadres; to politically lead the Democratic Parties, help them to carry out self-construction and support them in their work; to carry out the “policy for compatriots and overseas Chinese”, and to instruct, help and support the Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese to go about its work.
China uses “United Front” work to co-opt and neutralize sources of potential opposition to the policies and authority of its ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The CCP’s United Front Work Department (UFWD)—the agency responsible for coordinating these kinds of influence operations—mostly focuses on the management of potential opposition groups inside China, but it also has an important foreign influence mission. To carry out its influence activities abroad, the UFWD directs “overseas Chinese work,” which seeks to co-opt ethnic Chinese individuals and communities living outside China, while a number of other key affiliated organizations guided by China’s broader United Front strategy conduct influence operations targeting foreign actors and states.
China is a Party, with a capital “P.” The central government sets targets for everything from reductions in energy use per unit of GDP to the supply of hogs. These targets filter down from Beijing to the provinces, to city governments, counties and townships. State owed enterprises, which exist at national and sub-national levels, are often ordered to help meet such targets. Sometimes, Chinese decision-makers in these firms don’t appear to be making rational business decisions. But meeting national targets and supporting local development plans are an essential part of the game.
Some of these entities have clear connections to the CCP’s United Front strategy, while others’ linkage is less explicit. Today, United Front-related organizations are playing an increasingly important role in China’s broader foreign policy under Chinese President and General Secretary of the CCP Xi Jinping. It is precisely the nature of United Front work to seek influence through connections that are difficult to publically prove and to gain influence that is interwoven with sensitive issues such as ethnic, political, and national identity, making those who seek to identify the negative effects of such influence vulnerable to accusations of prejudice.
The establishment of a special united front work organization by the Communist Party of China began after the formation of the anti-Japanese national united front. In December 1937, the Politburo meeting of the CPC Central Committee decided to organize a CCP delegation in Wuhan, the area under the rule of the Kuomintang, to be responsible for contact and negotiation with the Kuomintang. This was the earliest united front work organization. Since then, some organizations dispatched by the CPC Central Committee and certain provincial party committees have successively established united front work departments.
Although the importance of United Front work declined after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, it has regained its prominence since then, and especially since the rise of Xi Jinping, as Beijing embraced a much more assertive foreign policy. Xi Jinping reinvigorated the United Front by launching the greatest reforms of the united front system in at least a generation. In the wake of the global economic crisis of 2008, the Chinese state enhanced its systematic efforts to rebuild Communist Party branches in private enterprises. These mechanisms are establishing new official institutions to coordinate CCP affairs related to the private sector, "sending down" a group of "party-building instructors," rewarding private business elites with appointments to party positions, and reorienting the work of local party organs to better serve the needs of the private sector.
China will allow the market to play a bigger role in economic innovation, Premier Li Keqiang said on 14 May 2013 at a State Council meeting on the reform of government. As more power is delegated to lower levels, the government should shift its focus to three areas — improving the policy environment for development, providing high-quality public service, and upholding social fairness and justice, he said. There should be a better balance between the government and the market, and between the government and society, the premier said during a videophone conference to launch a new round in transforming the functions of the cabinet and its branch agencies. The reform of government functions is a major effort to help the nation maintain growth, control inflation, reduce risks, and enjoy healthy and sustainable economic development. According to the premier, the reform will minimize government approval needed to authorize general investment projects and general qualification certificates.
By 2020 China was trying to mobilize around national strategies amid the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic and the deterioration of diplomatic and trade relations with the US. The top story on the CCTV Evening News 16 September 2020 was a report about Xi issuing “important instructions” on the new "Opinion on Strengthening the United Front Work of the Private Economy in the New Era". It was the first time the CPC has issued such guidelines since reform and opening-up began in 1978. Xi said "I hope we will enhance our patriotic feelings. Enterprise marketing knows no borders, and entrepreneurs have their motherland. "
Xi's instructions were issued ahead of the 17 September 2020 National Private Economy United Front Work Conference. the Opinion said that the Party aims to “build a backbone team of private businesspeople that is dependable and usable in key moments.” The new Opinion and the renewed focus from the United Front Work Department created an expectation of even more patriotism and political correctness from the private sector.
The Party's united front work concerning the private economy had been breaking new ground and innovating since the reform and opening-up, however, the united front work was faced with new situations and new tasks because the scale of the private sector has been expanding, risks and challenges have increased significantly, and the values and interests of the private economy personnel have become more diverse as socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era, according to the document.
Strengthening the united front work with the private sector is an important way to realize the Party's leadership over the private economy, an important content to develop and improve the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and an important guarantee to promote high-quality development of the private economy, it read. "United Front work in the private sector ... will lead to the growing enhancement of the CCP's leadership over the private sector," the directive said, adding that private entrepreneurs should "unite more closely around the party." Private sector companies and individuals should "strengthen their ideological foundation," with Xi Jinping Thought, it said, calling for party influence and political beliefs to be stepped up in private companies.
The directive said United Front work should target all private companies and staff, including those owned by citizens of Hong Kong and Macau, and should result in CCP influence on training, hiring and firing decisions via a new database of employees and potential recruits. Party committees should be formed or strengthened in some companies, while those that lack them should be offered direct training from local party committees instead, it said.
The document stressed efforts to strengthen political thinking guidance of personnel in the private sector, train competent representative figures of the sector, and support and serve the sector's high-quality development. Mechanisms for communication and consultation between government and businesses should be established and improved, it said, urging measures to give full play to the role of federations of industry and commerce and chambers of commerce and strengthen the Party's leadership over the united front work with the private sector.