China takes aim at Swedish activist as it ramps up ‘foreign infiltration’ propaganda

Jun Mai
1 / 3
China takes aim at Swedish activist as it ramps up ‘foreign infiltration’ propaganda

Beijing has highlighted an alleged espionage case involving a Swedish human rights worker more than three years after he was arrested and deported from China, as it steps up propaganda against what it calls “foreign infiltration”.

State-run newspaper People’s Daily on Friday said Swedish activist Peter Dahlin had used the Joint Development Institute (JDI) to “exaggerate and fabricate” negative news about China in human rights reports written for an overseas audience, and that it was a threat to national security.

Dahlin’s non-governmental organisation, known as China Action, was registered as JDI in Hong Kong.

Repeating Beijing’s accusations in 2016, when Dahlin was deported, the article said JDI had received money from outside China and had paid Chinese human rights lawyers 3,000 yuan (US$450) per month to support cases against the government.

The article also quoted Dahlin’s confession as saying that his NGO had helped to train and finance Chinese lawyers and petitioners, who collected negative news about China and provoked a reaction against the government. More than 10 legal assistance stations in China were used to do this, it said.

In a written response to the South China Morning Post, Dahlin acknowledged that JDI had received grants from outside China but dismissed the suggestion it posed a threat to the country’s national security.

“No part of the work of that NGO, China Action, in any way constituted harming national security,” Dahlin said. “Our work was entirely about enhancing enforcement of China’s own laws – which cannot by definition be considered harming national security.”

He said the Chinese lawyers had been paid a monthly support stipend to provide legal aid in their communities for rights violations – often to do with land, forced demolition or arbitrary detention – but not to specifically take cases against the government.

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Dahlin, 38, a co-founder of the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group (China Action), was detained for about two weeks in China in January 2016 before he was deported.

He is now based in Madrid, Spain, where he runs an NGO called Safeguard Defenders that aims to develop the capacity of local human rights groups throughout Asia, he said.

Back in 2016, state media accused Dahlin and Chinese rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, the other co-founder, of carrying out activities with JDI that “endangered state security”, including helping the teenage son of detained lawyer Wang Yu flee abroad. Wang Quanzhang was jailed for 4½ years for subversion in January.

In addition to Dahlin, People’s Daily on Friday also took aim at another NGO. The article said two Chinese citizens slain by terrorists in Pakistan in 2017 had been encouraged to go on a missionary trip to the country by InterCP, a Korean Christian group it also accused of “infiltrating” China.

The article came after China’s fourth National Security Education Day on April 15 and was one of several published in state media over the past week warning against “foreign spies and infiltration”.

Writing in the ruling Communist Party journal Qiushi on Tuesday, Minister of State Security Chen Wenqing called for action on safeguarding national security, with political security the top priority.

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Beijing has used its campaign to protect national security to justify a clampdown on human rights and religious groups in recent years.

In 2014, President Xi Jinping set up a National Security Commission, which he chairs. A year later, Beijing passed a wide-ranging national security law that goes beyond conventional areas to include financial security, the obligations of Hong Kong and Macau, and the party’s ideological control.

China’s first counterterrorism law was introduced the same year and has provided a legal basis for overseas counterterrorism missions by the military and its paramilitary force.

The operations of foreign NGOs in China are meanwhile subject to tighter control in terms of their finances and staff under a law covering their activities on the mainland passed in 2017.

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