Congress Eyes Sanctions on China's Political Warfare Machine

Bill targets China's propaganda network

Chinese leader Xi Jinping (Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)
March 13, 2024

Republicans in the House and Senate introduced legislation Wednesday that will level unprecedented sanctions on a range of Chinese entities known to be waging political propaganda warfare against the United States, the Washington Free Beacon has learned.

The bills would force the Biden administration to issue sanctions on any Chinese individual or entity that "knowingly commits a significant act of political warfare" against the United States, according to a copy of the legislation provided to the Free Beacon. It would also block Chinese officials and citizens known to participate in these plots from obtaining U.S. visas and entering the United States.

The legislation, spearheaded by Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), targets China's United Front Work Department, an unsanctioned Communist Party entity that is "involved in espionage campaigns, political warfare efforts, utilizing the Chinese diaspora abroad, and infiltration of educational institutions all with the goal of softening opposition to the Chinese Communist Party and its policies through the world." More than 100 United Front organizations are operating without restriction in the United States, according to information provided by Banks's office.

The sanctions push comes amid mounting concerns that China and its network of social media networks, including TikTok, will attempt to meddle in the upcoming 2024 presidential election. The U.S. intelligence community disclosed earlier this week that TikTok was used to influence the outcome of the 2022 midterm elections, and the House on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a bill to ban TikTok in America unless the social media app's parent company, ByteDance, fully divests from Beijing.

Banks's House version of the bill is certain to garner widespread Republican support amid a broader focus on China's propaganda campaigns across the United States. Senate Republicans are also likely to line up behind Cotton's companion bill, and the support of just a few Democratic China hawks could ensure the legislation passes both chambers.

China's United Front Work Department is shaping up to be the next battleground in the war to stop Communist propaganda from spreading across America. The bill requires the secretary of state to examine whether this CCP entity "meets the criteria for the application of sanctions" under the new authorities granted by the legislation, dubbed the Countering China's Political Warfare Act.

"The United Front Work Department has targeted our universities, state and local lawmakers, business associations and even Congress," Banks, a member of the House Select Committee on China, told the Free Beacon. "This bill gives America the necessary tools to strike back against malign Communist Party influence on US soil."

Beijing's government spent decades using the United Front Work Department to "co-opt and neutralize sources of potential opposition to the policies and authority of its ruling Chinese Communist Party," according to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

The propaganda network is well placed to mainstream propaganda surrounding the upcoming American elections. It also played a central role in the spread of misinformation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

The United Front Work Department "played a seminal role in coordinating multifaceted political warfare campaigns to blame the United States for the spread" of COVID-19 and cover up "China's negligent response to the pandemic," according to Banks's bill.

"The Chinese Communist Party has proven that it will spread disinformation and lie any way it can—from the oppression of Uyghurs to the origins of COVID-19, to it accessing the data of Americans who use TikTok," Cotton said in a statement provided to the Free Beacon. "Any person or group who spread the Chinese Communists' propaganda, like [the United Front], should face sanctions."

The United Front agency is accused of conducting espionage operations on U.S. college campuses and through China's network of Confucius Institutes, educational initiatives that promulgate Communist propaganda in the United States. The agency also funds several think tanks in Washington, D.C.

The United Front is also responsible for a propaganda campaign against China's oppressed Uyghur minority, including efforts to hide the genocide being perpetrated by the Communist regime.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has described the agency as a "magic weapon" that will aid in bringing about "the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation."