Chinese Communist Party Leveraging Organized Crime Groups in South Pacific

Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin completed his undergraduate and graduate education at a Texas university and has studied extensively in China. As a former Marine Corps intelligence analyst, he worked in the Indo-Pacific region. His areas of expertise include PLA modernization, particularly PLAN/PLANMC and its expeditionary capabilities, as well as CCP and Chinese domestic politics. He also runs the Sino Talk brand on Instagram and Twitter and is the IndoPacific Desk Chief for Atlas.

More From Me

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been known to leverage organised crime figures to support its United Front Work Department (UFWD) efforts. These ties can be used to advance CCP’s agenda by extending its reach and influence beyond traditional political channels.

This week, Australia’s  Nine media organisation, aided by Australian intelligence sources, identifies Zhao Fugang, owner of the Yue Lai hotel in Suva, Fiji, as the primary unofficial agent of the Chinese state in Fiji and alleges him to be the region’s top crime figure, associated with drug trafficking and other illegal activities. The report raises concerns about Zhao’s connections to former Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and suspended Police Commissioner Sitiveni Qiliho, prompting questions about the extent of Chinese organised crime’s influence not just in the Fiji context but also the wider Pacific.

Picture of Zhao Fugang, owner of the Yue Lai hotel in Suva, Fiji and (Photo: Nine/Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project)

A 2022 report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), highlighted efforts by the CCP and Chinese organised crime organisations to exert political influence in Palau, a small nation seen as a key battleground in the China-West rivalry.

The report uncovered a pattern of Chinese businesses linked to organised crime attempting audacious ventures in Palau, including illegal gambling operations involving hundreds of Chinese workers. According to Semdiu Decherong, former head of Palau’s financial regulator, Chinese business people and organised crime figures, including senior triad figure Wan Kuok Koi, also known as “Broken Tooth”, were operating with the awareness of the Chinese state. Decherong suggested that the individuals linked to organised crime and the CCP were interconnected, implying that the Chinese government is either turning a blind eye to their activities or actively supporting them behind the scenes.

Despite Palau’s diplomatic support for Taiwan, some business proxies have pushed Beijing’s interests, leading to resistance from locals and foreign pressure. The report further highlighted interconnections between Chinese figures and other Pacific countries, with implications for the entire region.

In 2018 The CCP launched a sweeping campaign against organised crime both domestically and internationally emphasising seriousness and loyalty to the party. The campaign, spearheaded by Xi Jinping, aims to tackle various criminal activities, including corruption and protecting officials who aid criminal groups.

Zhao Fugang walking alongside Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka at an unnamed Festival in 2023 (Photo: The Age)

But what about organised crime figures, operating in the Pacific who tow the party line. By turning a blind eye, the CCP can use these individuals, to conduct activities that drive CCP objectives, that the offical presence in the host country doesn’t’ want to be associated with. This can include activities such as bribing officials, conducting espionage, exerting influence, and even carrying out intimidation tactics on behalf of the CCP. These ties can be used to advance the CCP’s agenda by extending its reach and influence.

Overall, the involvement of organised crime figures aligned with the CCP in Pacific nations presents significant risks to the stability, security, and sovereignty of these countries.

Paper Dragon is an experienced insurance actuary based in Australasia specialising in analysing risks  from China’s expanding influence into Pacific nations. With a keen eye for detail and a growing understanding, Paper Dragon seeks to assist in safeguarding the interests of businesses and governments across the Pacific region.