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Sowing Hate, Cultivating Loyalists

Sowing Hate, Cultivating Loyalists

Mobilizing Repressive Nationalist Diaspora for Transnational Repression


Kennedy Chi-pan Wong

[Accepted, in print]

Published in

August 31, 2024

Pundits, advocates, and scholars have increasingly focused on the strategies of transnational repression employed by autocratic states to deter opposition and control the voices of emigrants abroad. Typically, transnational repression is understood as various forms of state-directed tactics executed by institutional actors who are deployed, trained, and organized by the state. Yet, the tactic of inciting hatred and division among emigrants to undermine dissidents—part of a nationalist strategy that mobilizes non-state actors for repression—has not been thoroughly explored. This article reveals a unique form of diaspora actorhood: the repressive nationalist diasporas, which consist of culturally driven migrants who support their authoritarian homelands and exert significant influence in various aspects of transnational migrants' civic life, including student groups, ethnic associations, and grassroots organizations. Through these networks, diaspora migrants provide autocrats with the means to extend their repressive reach internationally. This paper examines the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as a case study, demonstrating how the state leverages nationalist sentiments to alienate dissidents and fuel enmity among its loyalists overseas. The consequences are extensive, involving surveillance, harassment, and assaults on dissidents such as Hong Kongers, Tibetans, Uyghurs, Taiwanese, and mainland Chinese—aiming to silence those who criticize the PRC regime. Ethnographic research, interviews, and publicly available data are used to reveal, describe, and analyze the role and global reach of the repressive nationalist diaspora in the transnational repression mechanism as part of modern autocratic statecraft.

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