The China Cross-Strait Academy: A Case Study in CCP United Front Cultivation of Taiwan Youths and Media Manipulation

The China Cross-Strait Academy: A Case Study in CCP United Front Cultivation of Taiwan Youths and Media Manipulation

The China Cross-Strait Academy: A Case Study in CCP United Front Cultivation of Taiwan Youths and Media Manipulation

On or about May 19, a broad array of media outlets in both Chinese and English, including the South China Morning Post, began reporting on the founding of a new think tank, the “China Cross-Strait Academy” (or “China Straits Institute,” 中國海峽研究院). This reporting also mentioned the think tank’s first major product, the inaugural entry in a planned series of annual reports titled Cross-Strait Relations Risk Indicators (兩岸關係風險指數). (For examples of this coverage in Chinese, see here, here, and here; for other examples in English, see here, here, and here.) The report concluded that the United States and China were “on the brink of war” over Taiwan—with the current risk of war standing at 7.21 on a scale ranging from negative to positive 10, the highest that it had ever been since 1950. Taiwan’s United Daily News (UDN, 聯合報) summarized the report’s key finding by noting that “’Taiwan independence’ activities and [their] support by America and other Western countries are the fundamental reasons creating this situation.”

The report and its findings were promoted in multiple venues of People’s Republic of China (PRC)-based traditional and social media. This included a Weibo (微博) hashtag promoting a discussion of the report, which involved prominent Taiwan-based figures such as New Party (新黨) Chairman Wu Ch’eng-tian (吳成典), as well as selected persons from academic and media circles. Persons cited in media coverage about the report included Lei Xiying (雷希穎, see further below), the new think tank’s chairman, who cited the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP, 民進黨) administration of Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and increasing US engagement with Taiwan as “destructive factors” raising the risk of war. Lei warned that “If the current trend continues, Beijing’s unification of Taiwan by force will only be a matter of time.”

The Content of the Cross-Strait Relations Risk Indicators Report

The Cross-Strait Relations Risk Indicators report has been published in both Chinese language and English language versions. The report lays out a quantitative analysis of 38 factors in five broad categories (politics, military power, economic relations, public opinion, and foreign countries’ policies) to present a supposedly “scientific” analysis of the current circumstances affecting cross-Strait relations. (The problematic nature of applying quantitative numerical values to subjective, qualitative social phenomena is a matter too involved to discuss here, but should be borne in mind.)

Of note, the report’s specific authors are not named, but the institutional authors are identified as the Asian Development Research Center (亚洲发展研究中心) and the Xiamen Data Straits Research Center (厦门数聚海峡研究中心). The location and institutional affiliations of these organizations are unclear. [1] However, the text of the document identifies several specific academics and institutions—based primarily in Fujian Province—involved in formulating the methodology employed in the report’s analysis. [2]

The report makes clear who the primary villains are amid the rising risk of war: “In recent years, the [DPP] party governing Taiwan has refused to recognize the foundation of mutual political trust between both sides of the strait—the ‘1992 Consensus’ (九二共識)—and has continued to promote ‘gradual Taiwan independence’ […]  and even threatened to ‘start a war no matter what.’ All these actions have […] cast a shadow over the development of Cross-Strait relations.” The primary foreign nations identified as affecting cross-Strait relations are Japan, Australia, and the United States, with the latter representing the greatest problem: “Historically speaking, the major external cause of the Taiwan problem has been US interference in China’s internal affairs and its long-time bias for Taiwan.”

What Is the “China Cross-Strait Academy”?

On the surface, the asserted facts about the new “China Cross-Strait Academy” (CCSA) seem impressive. The United Daily News stated that the organization was a “non-governmental think tank” (民間智庫) that would “produce commentary and reports, invite scholars and experts to hold lectures and symposia, and hold cross-Strait dialogues directly with political leaders, scholars, political party [representatives], and new media, becoming a platform for cross-Strait relations and exchange.” The co-founders of the Academy were identified as “Taiwan youth” (台青) named Zheng Boyu (鄭博宇) and Fan Jiangfeng (范姜鋒); the chairperson was identified as Lei Xiying; and the secretary-general as “Taiwan youth” Luo Dingjun (羅鼎鈞), identified as the creator of the WeChat (Weixin, 微信) channel “Cross-Strait Youth” (兩岸青年). Citing Zheng Boyu, this account stated that “the new think tank has a total of about 70 researchers, [and] is different from research institutes on the mainland. […] The China Cross-Strait Academy will proceed from a Taiwan perspective, [and] not only will have academic research, [but will] also have other professions involved to engage in topical discussions, [thereby] becoming a platform for cross-Strait voices.”   

However, there is much about the newly minted “China Cross-Strait Academy” that remains unclear, and details regarding the organization’s location and background are sketchy. The CCSA’s homepage is registered on a Hong Kong domain (.hk), and most media sources in English have stated that the CCSA is based in that city. (The CCSA homepage does not appear to indicate any physical address.) However, at least one media account in Chinese described the founding ceremony for the institution—attended by “senior cross-Strait professors, political figures, and media personnel”—as taking place on May 19 in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen (深圳). Yet another account in Chinese language media has indicated that the organization is headquartered within the “Xiamen Kaida Entrepreneurial Straits Dual-Creation Base” (廈門啟達創業海峽雙創基地), an industrial park in Xiamen intended to host and sponsor young businesspeople from Taiwan. While it is unclear, it seems most likely that the CCSA is a virtual entity—one that exists as a media construct, but without physical existence as an organization.

The CCSA’s “Taiwan Youth” and Connections to the Communist Youth League

The persons identified on the CCSA website and in media as the (at least nominal) leadership of the CCSA are a mix of both PRC and Taiwan young adults—all based in the PRC—who maintain linkages with Chinese Communist Party (CCP, 中國共產黨) united front organizations, and/or with the CCP’s Communist Youth League (中國共產主義青年團). Zheng Boyu, one of the named co-founders, is a Taiwan native identified as the executive director of the “Cross-Strait Youth Exchange Association” (海峽兩岸青年交流協), which has been featured in PRC propaganda and outreach efforts to Taiwan youth; and as an honorary council member of the Beijing branch of the All-China Taiwanese Association (Tailian, 臺灣同胞聯誼會), a CCP front organization that describes itself as the “party and government’s bridge and link to Taiwan compatriots.”

Fan Jiangfeng (范姜鋒), another Taiwan native also named as a co-founder, has been identified elsewhere as the general manager of the Xiamen Kaida Taishou Entrepreneur Service Company Ltd. Company (廈門啟達台享創業服務有限公司), which is located at the Xiamen industrial park previously mentioned. Fan has previously been profiled in PRC media as a model for young Taiwan entrepreneurs seeking to do business in China, as well as receiving similar praise for operating his company’s pro-PRC WeChat handle Qida Taishou (启达台享).

The CCSA’s chairman, Lei Xiying, first garnered attention in 2016 for producing nationalist viral videos and criticizing Australia as a “running dog” of the United States in Weibo postings while studying for a PhD at Australian National University. Per Lei’s LinkedIn page, he is a columnist for the South China Morning Post; a “committee member” of an unspecified part of the All-China Youth Federation (ACYF, 中華全國青年聯合會) bureaucracy in Fujian Province; and a “council member” of the ACYF-associated “China Youth Association of New Media.” The ACYF describes itself as “one of our country’s fundamental people’s organizations under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, [and] is an umbrella youth organization with the strength of the China Communist Youth League at its core.”


The declared creation of the “China Cross-Strait Academy,” and the flurry of state-promoted media activity surrounding it, provide an illuminating example of the ways in which the CCP employs front organizations and manipulates media coverage to advance its narratives surrounding Taiwan. The CCSA has been presented as a non-governmental institute engaged in “objective” and “scientific” analysis of cross-Strait relations. This story, seemingly first presented in the South China Morning Post, subsequently spread to a variety of international media outlets (as in India, the United Kingdom, and Singapore). Although much about the CCSA remains murky, the available evidence strongly suggests that it is a CCP front organization—possibly with the Communist Youth League’s media bureaucracy acting as executive agent—intended to foster Beijing’s narratives about Taiwan.

The other intriguing aspect of the CSSA example is what it reveals about Beijing’s efforts to cultivate, and elevate the profiles of, young adults from Taiwan willing to bandwagon with the CCP. Whether or not this organization actually exists in a substantive sense is questionable; and to whatever extent it does exist, its actual leadership structure and institutional subordination are unclear. However, the organization’s publicly-reported leadership structure is composed entirely of young adults, at least three of whom have been identified as natives of Taiwan living in the mainland. This effort to cultivate Taiwan youth is a central theme in the PRC’s recent united front efforts directed towards the island. Furthermore, the publicity surrounding the CSSA has sought to present the organization as a forum for “Taiwan perspectives” and “cross-Strait voices”—thereby advancing the dubious narrative that its products reflect the outlook of Taiwan youth and civil society groups.

Rather than offering a new forum for analysis and exchange about cross-Strait relations, this new “think tank” appears to offer instead yet another case study in the deceptive united front tactics employed by the CCP. When presented with “objective” analysis from a PRC research institution, it is always wise to take a peek below the surface.

The main point: A critical analysis of the nominal leadership structure of the “China Cross-Strait Academy,” and of the media coverage surrounding its inaugural Cross-Strait Relations Risk Indicators report, reveal the creation of another probable PRC state-controlled front organization intended to promote CCP narratives about Taiwan.

[1] With regards to the former organization—the Xiamen Data Straits Research Center—multiple PRC universities and other institutions maintain Asia research centers under various names, but the specific identity of this entity is unclear. Mention of the “Xiamen Data Straits Research Center” appears in a PRC media article from March 2021, which praises the CCSA’s secretary-general Luo Dingjun (羅鼎鈞) for his patriotic dedication in studying the government work report presented at the PRC National People’s Congress (全國人民代表大會).

[2] Specific persons mentioned in this context are: Hu Jiasheng (胡加生) of the Xiamen College of Economic Management (厦门经济管理学院); Zou Zhendong (鄒振東) and Ping Menglan (馮夢蘭) of Xiamen University (廈門大學); and Li Qixiang (李祺祥), You Xiaojun (游小珺), and Wei Suqiong (韋素瓊) of Fujian Normal University (福建師範大學). See Cross-Strait Relations Risk Indicators report, p. 2.