Hikvision Chairman Praises United Front
Hikvision’s controlling shareholder held a meeting last month praising the United Front, a Communist Party organization known for its secretive overseas influence campaigns and key role bolstering Party rule at home.
During the meeting, Hikvision’s chairman, who is also a member of the PRC government, called for further strengthening the United Front’s activities and praised China’s authoritarian political system.
The meeting provides further proof of Hikvision’s close relationship to the Chinese party-state, something that is increasingly becoming an issue with Western politicians. (See US Senator Calls Hikvision and Dahua "Puppets of the Chinese Communist Party".)
In this note, we examine the United Front’s history and its relationship to Hikvision, including:
- What is the United Front?
- Past Influence Scandals
- Meeting Details
- Hikvision Chairman Remarks
- Expert Interview
- Hikvision Impact
What Is the United Front?
The United Front is tasked with managing outreach to all non-Party members within China and abroad, along with improving/defending China's global image. This includes running the United Front Democratic Parties - 'political parties' subservient to the CCP - and managing government commissions for ethnic, religious, and overseas Chinese affairs. This is what the US government has stated about the United Front:
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.
In Western media, the United Front has been described as a "vast influence machine". For example, the United Front has:
- Established at least 70 'peaceful reunification associations' worldwide which - while ostensibly independent - invariably support China's position against Taiwanese independence.
- Been linked to a government-funded Chinese student association in the US who mobilize Chinese students to protest the Dalai Lama
- Monitored Taiwanese businessmen in China as part of a campaign to 'absorb' Taiwan
The United Front's sometimes covert "foreign influence mission" has resulted in political scandals in Western countries like Australia and New Zealand as well:
- Huang Xiangmo, a United Front member and Chinese billionaire in Australia, allegedly bought support for China's position in the South China Sea dispute by threatening to withdraw campaign donations; his Australian visa was recently cancelled over influence concerns.
- Yikun Zhang, a United Front member, was behind allegedly illegal campaign contributions to the New Zealand opposition party leader.
- Jian Yian, a New Zealand politician and United Front member, failed to disclose prior ranks in the Chinese military and Communist Party.
- Pierre Yang, an Australian politician, failed to disclose membership to United Front organizations that backed China's side in the South China Sea dispute.
CETHIK’s United Front Symposium
A United Front “symposium” was held on January 16 at the headquarters of CETHIK, Hikvision’s state-owned controlling shareholder, according to a CETHIK release on its website.
It was overseen by Hikvision chairman Chen Zongnian, along with the deputy secretary and general manager of CETHIK’s Party Committee, Liu Yongyu and Cheng Yu. Unspecified United Front members from various sectors of the company were also present.
Zongnian praised the United Front repeatedly. According to the CETHIK release, he:
called for further strengthening the United Front work as representatives of the Party outside the Party, broadening the entrepreneurial enthusiasm of United Front officers, giving full play to the unique role of the United Front in all aspects of enterprise reform and development
The symposium did not mention anything about the United Front’s overseas activities, but focused on its domestic work of reaching out to non-party members within the company; for example, Zongnian “pointed out” that:
democratic parties and non-party members have always been our friends and need an equal voice. This is also a major advantage of the political system with Chinese characteristics.
(To cite the United Front’s outreach to non-Party members as a “major advantage” of the Chinese political system overlooks the fact that China is a one-party state which ranks near the bottom of every political freedom index.)
CETHIK: United Front is “Magic Weapon”
CETHIK itself also heaped praised on the United Front, stating:
The United Front is an important magic weapon for the victory of the Party's cause.
Note - the “magic weapon” term is a slogan directly from Mao, who in 1939 called the United Front one of the Party's "magic weapons" for achieving revolution, along with armed struggle and Party-building.
CETHIK also reiterated how highly its Party Committee (which Chen Zongnian heads) thought of United Front work:
The CETHIK Party Committee attaches great importance to the work of the United Front, earnestly strengthened the Party's leadership over United Front work, gives full play to the important role of United Front personnel, [and] promoted the improvement of United Front work
Expert Comments on Hikvision’s United Front Relationship
IPVM interviewed Gerry Groot, a senior lecturer of Chinese studies at the University of Adelaide and expert on the United Front.
Groot said it was typical for large state-backed Chinese enterprises like Hikvision to have "at least one" employee managing United Front activities full-time. As for CETHIK’s United Front symposium, which lacked any real specifics beyond praising the organization, Groot said it was a way for the Party Committee to keep an eye on key non-Party individuals and make sure any concerns are addressed within the Party framework:
Those people are tapped on the shoulder to provide feedback to the Party about the attitudes of [non-Party members], to send messages back down the Party. So it's another way of surveying the attitudes of people within the organization as well as motivating them to follow Party lines.
IPVM asked Groot if the United Front’s relationship to CETHIK, and thus Hikvision, represented any sort of cybersecurity/espionage threat, given the United Front’s overseas influence campaigns. Groot was skeptical of this, stating:
That's not normal operations. It does happen [but] it's not standard operating procedure… the main purpose of United Front work is to promote the goals that the Party has advocated and help build legitimacy of the Party and its aims. Sometimes it extends to intelligence work. Sometimes security people will talk to United Front people in order to find out about people they're interested in.
Hikvision Role in Defending China
While Hikvision's overall relationship to the United Front isn't clear from public sources, the company has played into the longtime United Front goal of defending or downplaying China's party-state abroad:
- Hikvision USA head Jeffrey He implied Hikvision's US troubles (chiefly the NDAA ban) were due to racism/xenophobia, stating "I’ve got a gut feeling that if we are not a Chinese company, this wouldn’t be an issue at all".
- Hikvision's 2017 blog post criticizing IPVM for "anti-China rhetoric"
- Jeffrey He stating [link no longer available] that Hikvision's corporate structure is nothing to be concerned about since it's "not an SOE [state-owned enterprise]", even though Hikvision has called itself an SOE before.
- Hikvision's hiring of a former US congressman as a lobbyist, along with three other US lobbying firms.
CETHIK’s United Front symposium showcases yet another avenue of influence of the Chinese government within Hikvision. This harms Hikvision’s repeated attempts to distance itself from the government; it also links Hikvision to an organization that has raised concerns in the West, even though the symposium focused on internal/domestic issues.
It's worth mentioning that despite Hikvision's claims to be a normal company that "puts customers first", there is simply no US nor other Western equivalent of a board meeting praising an authoritarian government's propaganda/influence outfit.