Chinese citizens and foreigners living in China have been on high alert lately, as Beijing’s purges have intensified. This tweet from Bill Bishop, the editor of the influential Sinocism newsletter, is representative of the kind of warnings we’ve seen:
Westerners in china who do not have an exit plan need to make 1.Pretty clear we are targets now,hope things change but trend not ur friend
— Bill Bishop (@niubi) January 20, 2016
Earlier this week, the WSJ reported that the Chinese Communist Party’s chief watchdog promised that the anti-corruption campaign wasn’t going to slow down in 2016. But it’s the scope of the government crackdown, extending beyond Chinese citizens living in China, that has everyone so worried. Last week, NGOs sounded alarm bells after Peter Dahling, a Swedish national and the leader of a Chinese legal aid NGO, was detained and then apparently forced to confess to “damaging national security” on Chinese state television. Dahling was subsequently deported to Sweden.
As we reported the other day, American businesses are feeling the heat from the crackdowns too. They say that, along with onerous and inscrutable regulations in the country, national security laws and restrictions on civil society are harming their ability to conduct business.
Increasingly, the crackdown isn’t even confined by China’s borders. The Washington Post reports:
Amid extraordinary moves to rein in criticism at home, Chinese security personnel are reaching confidently across borders, targeting Chinese and foreign citizens who dare to challenge the Communist Party line, in what one Western diplomat has called the “worst crackdown since Tiananmen Square.”
A string of incidents, including abductions from Thailand and Hong Kong, forced repatriations and the televised “confessions” of two Swedish citizens, has crossed a new red line, according to diplomats in Beijing. Yet many foreign governments seem unwilling or unable to intervene, their public response limited to mild protests.
This comes just after China trumpeted the success of what Beijing calls “Fox Hunt 2015,” in which undercover Chinese agents traveled the world, rounding up hundreds of allegedly corrupt “economic criminals” to face the music in Beijing (and, critically, bring back some of the capital they took with them). The Obama administration delivered a warning to Beijing last summer, but it doesn’t seem to have dissuaded anyone.
The West, for the most part, has remained quiet about these developments. But the more the purges affect Westerners in China and Chinese citizens living abroad, the more difficult it will become for Europe and the United States to sit on the sidelines.