Written by J. Michael Cole.

Amid signs of a consolidating identity among Taiwan’s youth and the increasingly likely prospect of a victory by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the January 2016 elections, China’s Communist Party propaganda department is ramping up its efforts to cultivate a pro-unification sentiment within the island-nation’s population. And this time, foreign academics — American ones in particular — also appear to be on the target list.

Ironically, the information about this latest effort by Beijing comes to us courtesy of reports in the China Review News (CRNTT, 中國評論通訊社), a Hong Kong-based publication associated with the China Association for Promotion of Chinese Culture (CAPCC, 中華文化發展促進會), a key platform of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) General Political Department Liaison Department (GPD/LD) that has spearheaded Beijing’s political campaign across the Taiwan Strait. Since its inception in 2001, the CAPCC, working in conjunction with a loose constellation of entities, media outlets, NGOs and think tanks, has organized numerous forums, conferences, and cultural events to promote the “peaceful” unification of Taiwan with China by targeting Taiwanese officials, military personnel, students, and ordinary citizens.

Although much of its political warfare effort has been directed at the Taiwanese, China has also used its resources to isolate Taiwan within the international community and turn world opinion against Taiwanese independence and, by default, the DPP. Up until recently, however, China’s political warfare campaign against Taiwan appears to have been conducted in mostly ad hoc fashion and whenever opportunities arose.

That might be about to change, with the recent creation of a new U.S.-based think tank known as the Asia Pacific Affairs Foundation (USA) (亞洲太平洋事務基金會(美國)), which may represent a first step in the institutionalization of Chinese lobbying efforts in the U.S.

According to the Chinese-language People’s Daily, the Asia Pacific Affairs Foundation (USA) was founded as a private, non-profit academic organization in February this year, with headquarters in Los Angeles, California. The Foundation, which was inaugurated on Aug. 18, states rather grandly that it aim to support and engage think tanks on both sides of the Pacific, across the Taiwan Strait, in Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, South Korea, and other countries in the Pacific Rim. Song Kaiwen (宋楷文), deputy executive director of the Foundation’s preparatory committee, said the think tank was created to “expand awareness” with American government officials and “influence the academic field” through cooperation with and the sponsoring of think tanks, research institutes and academic institutions. Song singled out the American University in Washington, D.C., CalTech, and the University of Southern California (USC) as potential partners, though at this point it is not clear whether the said institutions have been contacted. Sources at USC said they had no knowledge of such plans.

According to the same report, Victor Chang Wenji (張文基), a retired scholar at USC’s engineering faculty, and Wang Zhongpin (王中平) will lead research at the Foundation, with Wang also serving as a member of the board. Chang has a long history of involvement in United Front and “peaceful reunification” work. Yin Tielin (印鐵林), a National Taiwan University-trained civil engineer who is vice chairman of the National Association For China’s Peaceful Unification (NACPU, 美國華盛頓中國和平統一促進會) in Washington, D.C., is the Foundation’s executive director.

NACPU is a subsidiary of the China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful National Reunification (CCPPNR, 中國和平統一促進會) under the guidance of the CCP’s United Front Department and the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO). The Council is also heavily involved in defending China’s claims to the Diaoyu islets in the East China Sea, which are also claimed by Japan and Taiwan.

Wang is a member of the Huaxia Political Strategy Research Society (華夏政略研究會), an organ of CCPPNR. The Huaxia Society was among the groups that sponsored a pro-unification rally in Taipei on Sept. 7, 2003, on the heels of a pro-independence rally organized by then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) of the DPP. A poster from the event also called for an end to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

Both Wang and Yin are mentioned on the CCPPNR web site as founding members of NACPU.

Deputy director Song and Wang led a five-person delegation from the Foundation to Taipei in May, during which they held meetings with Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱), People First Party presidential candidate James Soong (宋楚瑜), and former DPP chairman Hsu Hsin-liang (許信良). Members of the delegation also met in China with the former Director of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chen Yunlin (陳雲林), where they visited Beijing, Shanghai, Shenyang and other cities, before returning to the U.S.

Wang told the 24th forum on cross-strait relations on July 14 that China should adopt a “global strategy” to “surround” Taiwan and create a powerful unifying force. This should be achieved through the development of soft and hard power, said Wang, who depicted the Taiwan “issue” as part of a conflict of civilizations pitting a Christian U.S. with China’s Buddhist traditions.

Earlier this month, the Foundation and the China Review Think Tank held a forum in which it invited scholars from China and Taiwan to discuss the current situation in the Taiwan Strait. The highlights:

Chaired by Wang, the forum warned that while Taiwan under president Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) would not necessarily declare de jure independence, it would nevertheless engage in cultural and strategic independence “in cooperation with the U.S. and Japan” and that “Taiwan consciousness” would inevitably continue to deepen. Consequently, China must strengthen its soft power to promote unification and a “cross-strait culture,” and be clear about the consequences of any move toward independence. A more stern position, backed by hard power, will be necessary. Much greater emphasis will also have to be placed on Sino-U.S. interactions to influence mainstream American society on the Taiwan “issue” and relations with China in general. This will include drawing upon Overseas Chinese. As long as Sino-U.S. relations are unstable, one of the speakers said, cross-strait relations will be bumpy.

All of this signals to my mind an ominous intensification of China’s efforts to isolate supporters of the DPP on US soil.

J. Michael Cole is editor in chief of www.thinking-taiwan.com, a web site operated by the Thinking Taiwan Foundation, an educational foundation launched by DPP chairperson Tsai Ing-wen in 2012. Michael is also Senior Non-Resident Fellow at the University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute, and Associate Researcher with the French Centre for Research Contemporary China (CEFC). Follow him on Twitter @JMichaelCole1. Image Credit: CC by davidreid/Flickr.