The ruling Chinese Communist Party is taking increasing steps to target public opinion, governments and institutions overseas, in a bid to stifle free debate over its human rights record, according to a U.S.-based rights group.
Beijing has used its economic muscle, especially in developing countries in Africa and along its borders, to force acceptance by governments of its requirements, sometimes resulting in police action against exiles or other critics of the regime in those countries, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement on its website.
"Beijing has unambiguously pressured other governments not to discuss—even on their own soil—human rights issues in China or with visiting Chinese officials," the statement, authored by HRW China director Sophie Richardson, said.
"Some governments, such as Nepal, have effectively agreed to employ Chinese political imperatives as laws," Richardson wrote, adding that Nepal officials have been heard using the term "anti-China activities," though the concept has no meaning in the country's own laws.
Chinese authorities also attempt to impose restrictions on independent organizations and individuals, Richardson wrote, citing intense diplomatic pressure on countries not to send representatives to the award ceremony for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, which was won by jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo.
'Threat to the world'
Australia-based activist Yuan Jie, president and editor-in-chief of Tiananmen Times and president of the Chinese Democracy School in Australia, agreed.
"They are using penetrative methods overseas so as to have an impact on public freedom of expression," Yuan said. "They are investing in overseas, Chinese-language media, or acquiring it to serve as an overseas mouthpiece."
"This is the main method they use to influence overseas Chinese."
He said Beijing is particularly keen to undermine "universal values" including democracy and freedom of speech.
"China uses its economic power in some countries which need something from China," Yuan said. "It sets itself against the mainstream of world civilization, and as such constitutes an actual threat to the world."
According to Richardson, Beijing is already using its growing corporate power to limit what people can say about it in public.
"Chinese corporations, some of them state-owned, and media outlets, which are wholly-government run entities, now operate all over the world," Richardson said.
"In some circumstances they too enable restrictions on the freedom of expression," she wrote, citing a complaint by workers at Zambian copper mines owned by the state-controlled China Non-ferrous Metals Mining Corporation (CNMC).
"Many expressed serious concern of being fired if management identified them as having spoken to Human Rights Watch," Richardson wrote.
At last year's review of China's rights record by the United Nations Human Rights Council, Beijing blocked a bid by independent activists to hold a minute's silence for Cao Shunli, an activist who was detained en route to Geneva to contribute to the review, but who was detained and who later died after being refused medical treatment by detention center staff, her lawyer said.
Freedom of expression
Meanwhile, domestic controls over freedom of expression continue to intensify, Richardson said.
She listed imprisoning popular bloggers, maintaining the "Great Firewall" to censor the Internet and expunging from history books references to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre as examples of the party's continuing throttle-hold on free speech.
"These are some of the familiar methods the Chinese government uses to restrict that right inside the country," she wrote.
According to Cai Yongmei, editor of the cutting-edge Hong Kong magazine Outlook, one has to look no further than Hong Kong to see how Beijing plays a powerful game of influence beyond its political jurisdiction.
"We have always had China-owned magazines [and media] here in Hong Kong," Cai said. "For example, the Mirror monthly magazine ... and the Ta Kung Pao and the Wen Hui Po are all on the side of the Chinese Communist Party."
"This is traditionally how it operates," she said, adding that the prospect of entry to the China market is often too important to risk by publishing content critical of Beijing.
"The Communist Party is rich, and its methods are getting more and more effective."
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.