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Opinion The Mets should stand for baseball — not Chinese Communist Party propaganda

Mr. Met performs at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Come for the ballgame. Stay for the Chinese Communist Party propaganda.

That’s not the marketing slogan for the New York Mets’ “Evening of Chinese Culture” — but it might as well be.

On Saturday, the Mets will take the field against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field in what promises to be an exciting matchup between two top National League baseball teams. But this is no ordinary game. According to an event organizer, Saturday’s attendees will be treated to an “extravaganza” featuring souvenirs, calligraphy and kung fu demonstrations, handouts about “Chinese civilization” and other programming. And this year, for the first time in the annual event’s decade-plus history, fans who purchased tickets through an online promo will receive a limited edition commemorative hat.

On the surface, it all seems innocent enough. As the Mets organization points out, it honors many groups. Upcoming “celebration nights” recognize Ireland and Israel, Filipino and Hispanic heritages, and the sesquicentennial of baseball in Japan. And Aug. 28 is the franchise’s 17th annual “Taiwan Day.”

But the “Evening of Chinese Culture” is about more than community outreach. The Mets’ partner for the event is the Sino-American Friendship Association, which some China experts have identified as involved in United Front work — a global effort to propagandize on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

A term with Leninist origins, the United Front refers to a constellation of organizations that serve as bridges between the Chinese Communist Party and non-party institutions. Overseas, these take the form of “friendship” groups that exist in almost every major U.S. city. Some are explicitly connected with the CCP’s United Front Work Department, an official ministry. Others are more loosely affiliated but linked to the broader “ideological work” the CCP aims to carry out worldwide, said Isaac Stone Fish, founder and CEO of the research firm Strategy Risks, who has investigated China’s influence among U.S. elites.

The mission of organizations linked to the United Front, according to American Foreign Policy Council fellow Michael Sobolik, is twofold. The first, he explains, is “to observe and control the activity of Chinese nationals across the world.” The second is “elite capture”: cozying up to business leaders, political officials and other influential figures overseas to change foreign nations’ perception of China. In some cases, Sobolik adds, the groups are actively seeking targets to groom as intelligence assets.

The Sino-American Friendship Association is “a well-known United Front operator,” according to Mark Simon, a close associate of Hong Kong dissident Jimmy Lai (and a Mets fan). The group’s ties to CCP officialdom are extensive. According to SAFA’s website, its honorary chairman, XiKun Yuan, is a member of the 11th Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a CCP organ. Its advisory board includes Bingde Zhou, former vice president of the state-run China News Service, and Zhongwen Qu, former consul of the Consulate-General of the People’s Republic of China in New York. SAFA’s Chinese-language website refers to cooperation with the Chinese consulate, the China National Tourist Office, and Xinhua and other state-controlled media agencies. The group has also organized trips to meet with United Front Work Department officials in China.

In a statement, the Sino-American Friendship Association said it is “an independent, nonprofit, non-government organization.”

The perfect symbol of what’s wrong with the Mets’ gimmick is the baseball cap giveaway. The underside of the brim features images commemorating the Year of the Tiger. The outside — the most visible part — displays the Mets logo in red and yellow to coordinate with the national flag of the People’s Republic of China emblazoned on the cap’s left side.

Symbols matter, and there is irony in using this one to celebrate Chinese culture. If anything, the PRC flag has, for decades, represented the systematic destruction of Chinese culture. Today, the Chinese Communist Party censors artists and writers. Religion is controlled by the state. China is the world’s largest jailer of journalists. It is seeking to destroy minority cultures by banning schools from teaching children in their native languages. Beijing is tightening its stranglehold on Tibet. It continues to crush the once-thriving metropolis of Hong Kong under its jackboot.

And the regime’s genocide against the country’s 12 million Uyghurs is well documented. Concentration camps, “reeducation,” surveillance, slave labor, forced sterilization, torture and rape — all are part of an evil campaign to wipe this Muslim minority’s culture off the face of the Earth.

It’s enough to make any decent baseball fan — or human being — choke on his peanuts and Cracker Jacks.

It’s also certainly not the image SAFA seeks to project. Nor do the Mets seem keen to promote the truth about Beijing. According to a team spokesman, the evening’s goal is local outreach: “Our home in Flushing is … home to more Asian and Pacific Islander New Yorkers than any neighborhood in New York City, which has also seen an unfortunate increase in anti-Asian violence,” he said. “Now more than ever, it is important to support these communities.” The PRC flag on the hat, he added, is consistent with the incorporation of flags into hat designs for other heritage celebrations.

The organization seems to forget that, when it comes to sheer body count, history’s greatest perpetrator of anti-Asian violence has been the People’s Republic of China. Many of Flushing’s Asian residents are there precisely because they fled the CCP and everything it stands for.

It’s tempting to dismiss the Mets’ fiasco as merely another instance of Chinese sportswashing. But the timing of this one is especially bad. It’s not great optics to be giving away PRC-flag hats the same week the regime menaced the U.S. speaker of the House and launched missiles near its democratic neighbor.

In an ideal world, the Mets would cancel Saturday’s event, sever ties with the Sino-American Friendship Association and ensure that any future “Evenings of Chinese Culture” actually celebrate Chinese culture and the Chinese people — not a regime hostile to both.

In the meantime, fans who don’t want to serve as billboards for a genocidal totalitarian state have an easy remedy. They can toss the commemorative hats where they belong, right alongside the Chinese Communist Party — on the trash heap of bad ideas.