19th Party Congress: China urges overseas Chinese to respect culture of host countries

BEIJING - China encourages overseas Chinese to engage with locals in receiving countries and respect their laws, culture and traditions just as it expects foreigners in China to do likewise, a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) official has said.

"We ask them to respect the laws and regulations of the countries they live in and respect the culture, history and way of life in those countries," said Mr Zhang Yijiong, vice-minister of the CCP's United Front Work Department. The unit manages the party's relations with non-CCP individuals and organisations both inside China and outside the mainland, including in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and beyond.

Mr Zhang was responding to a question on how his department's work to mobilise overseas Chinese to protect China's core interests has been seen in countries like Australia and New Zealand as possibly undermining the sovereignty and political systems of those countries.

Earlier at the press conference on Saturday (Oct 21) on the sidelines of the ongoing national congress of the CCP, Mr Zhang said his department had "drawn a wide range of overseas Chinese to promote the reform and development of the country and defend the country's core interests". It had guided overseas Chinese nationals in "advancing peaceful reunification of the country and defending the country's territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests".

His remarks came amid growing concern about China's efforts to influence Australian politicians and public debate, including bids to affect activities on university campuses.

There have been campaigns by Australian Chinese online media and Chinese diplomats that targeted academic staff at universities over teaching material deemed "offensive". In one case, Taiwan and Hong Kong were listed as countries.

In local government elections in the state of New South Wales in September 2017, it was reported that three of the successful candidates belonged to pro-CCP lobby groups set up by Chinese-Australian property tycoon Huang Xiangmo. Mr Huang is said to head an organisation in Australia that promotes the peaceful reunification of China. Beijing seeks to reunify with Taiwan, deemed a renegade province.

In an apparent pushback, Ms Frances Adamson, head of the department of foreign affairs and trade, earlier this month called on students from China and elsewhere to respect free speech on campus, saying efforts to interfere in university activities were an "affront to our values". Australia is expected to enact a law to prevent foreign political interference that could include harsh penalties.

The wide-ranging press conference on Saturday (Oct21) also touched on the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar's Rakhine state, with about half a million Rohingya Muslims having fled their homes there to Bangladesh as their villages were being torched in what is said to be retaliation against militant attacks on security forces.

While condemning the violence in Rakhine, Mr Guo Yezhou, deputy head of the CCP's international department, said: "We understand and support the efforts of Myanmar in protecting peace and stability of the state."

He was responding to a question on why China had taken a different stance from the West on the crisis. United Nations officials have called what is happening in Rakhine "ethnic cleansing" while the United States has said it holds Myanmar's military responsible for the harsh crackdown on Rohingyas.

Mr Guo said China was taking a different position because of its policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. Besides, given that the two countries had a shared border, instability in Myanmar would affect China, he added.