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Secret societies and criminal organisations have been part of the fabric of Chinese society and politics since the beginning of the 20th Century. But we arenxe2x80x99t talking about the next blockbuster film about crime syndicates of Shanghai, this is a real story of Chinese politicians and criminals working in tandem.
On Monday, Macau police arrested Alvin Chau, junket boss and CEO of Suncity xe2x80x94 one of the worldxe2x80x99s biggest junket companies listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Junket system is a gambling operation in Macau that attracts high-end gamblers from across the world.
According to Chinese state media, Chauxe2x80x99s operations include 12,000 gaming agents and 80,000 gambling members. He has been arrested for setting up overseas gambling platforms and is said to have ties with Macau xe2x80x98triadxe2x80x99xc2xa0 xe2x80x94 a term used for Chinese transnational organised crime groups.
In 2019, Chau was barred from entering Australia after concerns about xe2x80x9clarge-scale money laundering activitiesxe2x80x9d through his partnership with Crown Resorts, Australiaxe2x80x99s largest gaming group.
Chinaxe2x80x99s secret societies
The history of Chinese politicians mingling with secret societies goes back to Chinese nationalist leader Sun Yat-sen who had an extensive association with underground networks in Shanghai. Chiang Kai Shek, Sun Yat-senxe2x80x99s successor, relied on a secret society named xe2x80x9cGreen Gangxe2x80x9d to collect information on communists.
After coming to power in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cracked down on the xe2x80x9cGreen Gangxe2x80x9d for its ties with Chiang Kai Shekxe2x80x99s Kuomintang and its involvement in the 1927 Shanghai anti-communist attack.
The CCP forced out the Chinese triads and secret societies from the mainland during the Chinese civil war. These societies and triads moved to Hong Kong and Taiwan, where they continued to operate.
CCPxe2x80x99s relationship with triads began to change under Deng Xiaoping xe2x80x94 Chinaxe2x80x99s leader between 1978 and 1989.
On 23 May 1982, Deng Xiaoping met Hong Kong tycoons Li Ka-shing and Henry Fok to establish ties with the cityxe2x80x99s triads. Xiaoping said in 1984, that xe2x80x9cnot all triads are bad, many of them were good, and many are patriotsxe2x80x9d. The idea of patriotic triads legitimised the criminal organisations and gave them the immunity to operate.
The key to understanding CCPxe2x80x99s relationship with the triads is through the United Front Work Department. United Front is a political tool used by the CCP to create divisions while achieving its agenda through non-government entities and affiliated individuals. United Front groups can often be private Chinese citizens living outside of China as students or workers.
The United Front Department and the Chinese intelligence agencies work in tandem with triads to run their businesses, launder money, and seek political influence in the West. United Front organisations are usually hidden behind innocuous-sounding non-governmental organisations. Theyxe2x80x99re also called a xe2x80x9cmagic weaponxe2x80x9d by the party.
Over the years, the CCP has come to use these organisations to achieve various political goals in Taiwan, Hong Kong and overseas Chinese communities. The CCP has used the triads to attack civil society activists, journalists and other opponents in Hong Kong.
In Taiwan, a party named China Unification Promotion Party (CUPP) was founded by organised crime member Chang An-Le, who has sought to do Beijingxe2x80x99s bidding. Chang An-Le, also known as xe2x80x98White Wolfxe2x80x99, is a convicted extortionist, heroin trafficker and kidnapper, who has close ties with CCP princelings. The xe2x80x98Bamboo Unionxe2x80x99 xe2x80x93 Chang original triad xe2x80x93 has moved drugs and firearms in the region.
Chang doesnxe2x80x99t hide his ties with the CCP and has acknowledged meeting the party princelings. He has openly called China to invade Taiwan militarily. xe2x80x9cBecause my country is China, and I am on the Chinese Communist Partyxe2x80x99s side, so these Taiwanese laws cannot apply to me,xe2x80x9d Chang had said in the past.
Taiwanxe2x80x99s ruling Democratic Progressive Party members have called on the judiciary to charge Chang An-Le for endangering Taiwanxe2x80x99s national security law. He is one of the many actors in Taiwan who have ties to Beijing and seek to create a more favourable political environment for CCP in Taiwan.
Canada has been one of the xe2x80x9cpermissive targetsxe2x80x9d of triads, Chinese intelligence, and the United Front Department. Canadian journalist Sam Cooper described in his recent book the story of how Chinese intelligence, gambling, triads, and money launderers have operated in public view. Canadaxe2x80x99s real estate and casino gambling are the targets of Chinese intelligence and triads to launder money.
xe2x80x9cThe implication is that Chinese organized crime networks are not just laundering drug cash through casino junkets. They also use casinos and real estate investment to produce cash for Chinese Communist Party operations in North America, including political bribes. In intelligence-speak, this would be called threat-financing,xe2x80x9d Cooper writes in his book, xe2x80x98Willful Blindness: How a Network of Narcos, Tycoons and CCP Agents Infiltrated the West.xe2x80x99
Chinaxe2x80x99s presence in Canada and Australia have given the CCP access to the Westxe2x80x99s corridors of power. United Front groups have a history of harassing overseas Chinese who speak out against CCP. xe2x80x9cChinese intelligence services have set up xe2x80x98front companiesxe2x80x99 in Canada solely for espionage purposes, including theft of business secretsxe2x80xa6 The companies have regular contacts with the triad gangs,xe2x80x9d Cooperxe2x80x99s book adds.
The recently apprehended Alvin Chau is no outsider to the party, and has served as a member of the Guangdong Provincial Committee of the Chinese Peoplexe2x80x99s Political Consultative Conference (PCC). The Conference is a political advisory body of the CCP and a central element of the United Front system.
In 2011, Chau entered the movie production business with Sun Entertainment Culture Company. The company has produced movies such as xe2x80x98From Vegas to Macauxe2x80x99 trilogy (2014, 2015, 2016) and xe2x80x98Kung Fu Junglexe2x80x99 (2014). Chauxe2x80x99s movies often mix Chinese patriotism with gambling, deceit, gangs and drama. Chinese social media users are now questioning Chauxe2x80x99s filmsxe2x80x99 patriotism and the role of money laundering in movie production.
Chinaxe2x80x99s border controls because of zero-Covid policy and strict laws have always made it difficult for Macau gambling operations to attract foreign gamblers. There are signs that a coordinated political crackdown might be on the way ahead of the Digital Yuan rollout. The licences given to Macau casinos are about to expire in June 2022.
The world has only recently learned about the intersection between the CCP, Chinese intelligence, triads, and gambling operations. Xi Jinping might be trying to root out the intersecting influence of triad and CCP factions, which may become a cause of trouble for him.
The author is a columnist and a freelance journalist. He was previously a China media journalist at the BBC World Service. Views are personal.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)
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