Target Singapore: Beijing aims relentless influence ops at Chinese in neighboring states

by WorldTribune Staff, July 29, 2019

Singapore is the only nation in Southeast Asia with a majority ethnic Chinese population. The island city-state is also a global financial center and plays a large role in regional diplomacy.

So it should come as no surprise that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has long had Singapore in its sights.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Singapore with Chinese supreme leader Xi Jinping

Russell Hsiao of the Jamestown Foundation related an incident which played out in 2016–2017 in which nine Singaporean military armored vehicles used for training in Taiwan were impounded during passage through Hong Kong.

Singapore-China relations were strained by the incident, but Singaporean Chinese businessmen, who held ties with government officials through grassroots associations and other channels, reportedly provided “feedback” to the government to avoid stirring up trouble with China by continuing to train in Taiwan.

Leaders in Singapore, a parliamentary republic, are said to have become increasingly wary of China’s regional assertiveness. But that has not stopped the CCP’s influence operations through its United Front Work Department, through business associations, and clan associations, a report said.

Singapore, the report said, is not unique and other Southeast Asian states “are not as prepared as the city-state to evaluate and combat Chinese soft and sharp power strategies.”

One such state is Cambodia, where Beijing’s influence operations are obvious.

Related: Report: China and Cambodia sign secret pact for military base, July 23, 2019

China helped launch a news outlet in Cambodia that “appears to be essentially a pro-regime and pro-China tool,” the report said.

The regime of supreme leader Xi Jinping may also “have played a role in manipulating Cambodia’s information environment prior to last year’s elections, where Hun Sen took complete control of the country.”

“In recent years, Chinese attempts to influence Singapore seem to have grown, even compared to the long history of CCP influence strategies in the city-state,” Joshua Kurlantzick wrote in a July 29 blog post for the Council on Foreign Relations.

“These efforts include both soft and sharp power. Singaporean officials believe that Beijing’s efforts to pressure Singaporean Chinese media, despite tough Singaporean media regulations, have increased in the past decade. They further believe that Beijing is boosting attempts to wield influence over universities and think tanks in Singapore; and, they believe that China is expanding people-to-people exchanges, which are tools of both soft and, potentially, sharp power in Singapore.”

Singaporean leaders are further concerned that Beijing “could increasingly affect Singaporeans’ news consumption and views of regional relations as WeChat becomes even more ubiquitous regionally as a source of conversation and information,” the report said.

In other Southeast Asia states, the report noted, “Chinese soft and sharp power campaigns have dramatically increased in the past decade.”

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