In March 2015, Falun Gong practitioners from China filed suit in a New York federal court for civil rights violations against an organization called the “Chinese Anti-Cult World Alliance” (CACWA) with evident ties to the Chinese government. A year later, the case is still pending. Many other groups like CACWA, meanwhile, continue to act in apparent violation of federal law as political operatives for the Chinese government.
The New York suit charges years of abuse by CACWA members including verbal harassment, physical attacks, and death threats against Falun Gong practitioners in the Chinese American community of Flushing in Queens. The plaintiffs in the case are represented by the Human Rights Law Foundation in Washington DC. The alleged ringleaders and chief defendants are Mr. Zhu Lichuang (朱立创, aka Michael Chu) and Ms. Li Huahong (李华红)–by all accounts a Chairman and Madame Mao meet Bonnie and Clyde for the residents of Flushing.
Zhu has deep ties with the Communist Party of China (CPC), appearing frequently in state-run Chinese media, engages in a variety of pro-CPC activities in the United States, and enjoys a warm relationship with the Chinese consulate-general in New York. In photos from a 2012 anti-Japanese demonstration in New York, Zhu appears amid a sea of red Chinese flags ripping up the flag of Japan.
Zhu has thus far managed to avoid criminal prosecution, but Li has been arrested for assault multiple times and was convicted of assault in 2013. Both have been observed and caught on camera harassing Falun Gong practitioners on the streets of Flushing. In a photo widely circulated online, Li appears on the streets of New York draped in the red flag of China.
Since 1999, the Chinese government has waged a brutal campaign of repression against the Falun Gong spiritual practice and its adherents in China, including imprisonment, torture, and strongly suspected of live organ harvesting, all of which is denied. Because its behavior in China is so horrific—qualifying, in fact, as a crime against humanity—the CPC has also sought to silence Falun Gong practitioners who have fled to the United States and other countries. According to very strong evidence, this campaign is orchestrated by the Chinese government and carried out by grassroots CPC loyalists like Zhu Lichuang and Li Huahong.
Zhu’s activities on behalf of the Chinese government do not stop with persecuting Falun Gong practitioners. In addition to his leading role in CACWA, Zhu is the vice-president of the New York Association for Promoting the Peaceful Reunification of China, one of many overseas chapters of the China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful National Reunification (CCPPNR) in Beijing. For the CPC, “peaceful reunification” means mainland Chinese control over any place that Beijing considers part of China.
Charged with enforcing Beijing’s “one-China policy” and opposing Taiwan independence, CCPPNR is just one part of Beijing’s overseas propaganda apparatus, which also includes the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council (OCAO) and the CPC’s United Front Work Department (UFWD). OCAO oversees Beijing’s relations with ethnic Chinese communities abroad, which Beijing seeks to co-opt for use as instruments of mainland Chinese foreign policy. UFWD is charged with asserting CPC “leadership” over non-CPC organizations at home and abroad. Overseas CCPPNR chapters operate under the overlapping authority of these agencies in Beijing.
The president of the New York CCPPNR chapter is Mr. Hua Junxiong (花俊雄, aka George Hua). Like Zhu, Hua is frequently seen leading pro-PRC demonstrations in New York. He and Zhu Lichuang provide a striking example of how China seeks to exert influence in the United States and other countries around the world.
Zhu and Hua appear together in the CPC’s flagship People’s Daily leading a pro-China demonstration outside the Japanese consulate in New York in 2012. They appear on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square for the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 2009 with an article by Zhu for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council asserting PRC control over Taiwan, complete with quotations from Chairman Mao. They appear again, and again, and again, and again on Chinese government and state-run media websites, issuing statements that are virtually indistinguishable from those of the PRC government.
Zhu and Hua apparently see no reason to keep their U.S. activities secret, despite their apparent illegality under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Enacted in 1938, FARA requires all persons or groups acting on behalf of a foreign government or other foreign principal in the United States to properly register as such and regularly report their activities, particularly lobbying or propaganda activities aimed at influencing the U.S. political process or public opinion.
FARA exists so that Americans know what foreign governments are doing in the United States by requiring them to do so openly and transparently. It does not prohibit anyone from acting as a foreign agent; it only requires registration and reporting as such. To act as a foreign agent without registering and reporting as required under FARA is a violation of U.S. federal law, and the groups run by Zhu and Hua in New York are very apparently operating in violation of FARA (in addition to any other laws they may have violated in their persecution of Falun Gong practitioners).
They do not seem too worried about this, which tells us something unsettling about FARA enforcement, or rather the lack of it. Zhu runs his political operations out of the same location as his travel agency and newspaper in Flushing, and the details on these—mostly in Chinese—are readily available online.
In addition to his role in the New York CCPPNR chapter, Hua also runs the New York Save the Diaoyu Islands Joint Committee, a pro-PRC group dedicated to wresting the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea from Japanese control. These groups advertise their activities online with telephone numbers and other contact information for Hua, Zhu, and Li Huahong.
The New York CCPPNR chapter run by Hua and Zhu is only one of many across the United States under the auspices of the National Association for China’s Peaceful Unification (NACPU) in Washington DC. Like the New York CCPPNR chapter and CACWA, NACPU is registered simply as a domestic U.S. non-profit organization, despite its official standing as an overseas arm of the CCPPNR in Beijing and its evident relationship with the Chinese government.
In a 2011 article for NACPU, Zhu stressed the mission of promoting PRC patriotism, carrying out propaganda work in support of the PRC, and opposing Taiwanese, Tibetan, and Xinjiang “separatism” on behalf of the PRC government in the United States. Such activities clearly constitute operation as an agent of a foreign government. To do these while posing as a domestic non-profit organization is a violation of FARA.
Among the many CCPPNR chapters across the United States is the Northern California Association for Promoting the Peaceful Reunification of China in San Francisco. 2006 statements in People’s Daily explicitly say that the Northern California CCPPNR chapter “identifies as a ‘Chinese American’ group in order to comply with U.S. law,” then roll out a series of PRC policies the group was established to support.
The group fairly obviously identifies as “Chinese American” not to comply with U.S. law, but to seem in compliance with U.S. law. Hua Junxiong of the New York CCPPNR chapter appeared with the San Francisco chapter and PRC diplomats at a pro-PRC “Americas Summit” in 2013.
The honorary president of the San Francisco CCPPNR chapter, Ms. Fang Li Bangqin (方李邦琴, aka Florence Fang), seems to be something of a minor celebrity among CPC circles in China. She and the group’s president, Ms. Lin Qing (林青), make numerous appearances at People’s Daily and other PRC government and state-run media websites, including frequent meetings and photo-ops with high-level CPC officials, where their statements are again indistinguishable from those of the PRC government. Meetings with CPC officials are also reported in detail at the group’s own website.
The World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong (WOIPFG) has also noted Fang’s close PRC ties and her influence in San Francisco through her family’s vast wealth and newspaper holdings. As WOIPFG further notes, the San Francisco CCPPNR chapter organized a petition drive to “rebuke” Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco when Pelosi called on then-President George W. Bush to boycott the 2008 Beijing Olympics in protest against human right abuse in Tibet – a clear effort to exert pro-PRC political influence in the United States.
Just as the New York CCPPNR chapter maintains a close relationship with the PRC consulate in New York, so the San Francisco chapter also maintains a close relationship with the PRC consulate in that city. An individual worth highlighting in this relationship is Mr. Peng Keyu (彭克玉), who served as PRC consul-general in San Francisco from 2004 to 2007 and then in New York from 2007 to 2011.
The San Francisco CCPPNR chapter enjoyed a warm relationship with Peng during his tenure in San Francisco, just as it does with the current PRC consul-general there: In 2007, Peng attended and spoke at an annual get-together for the San Francisco CCPPNR chapter, praising the group for its excellent work promoting China’s policy priorities in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The following year as consul-general in New York, Peng was caught on tape by a WOIPFG investigator admitting that he had personally instigated violent attacks on Falun Gong practitioners in Flushing. Attacks on Falun Gong practitioners similar to those in New York have also occurred in San Francisco, in which involvement by the PRC consulate is likewise suspected.
While the San Francisco attacks happened after Peng’s departure as consul-general there, the close associations among PRC consular officials and CCPPNR groups and their links with persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in the United States raise some pretty troubling questions. Despite calls for Peng to be investigated and expelled from the United States, he remained in New York as consul-general until 2011, appearing at events with Zhu Lichuang in Flushing including a patriotic “Colorful China” ribbon-cutting and a “Motherland in My Heart” event for China’s National Day in 2009.
If Chinese government front groups are operating illegally in the United States, the U.S. government has a responsibility to act in the matter and enforce the Foreign Agents Registration Act. In particular, no one who has escaped persecution in China should have to face persecution again at the hands of Chinese government operatives in America.