'Win hearts and minds' in Taiwan and Hong Kong, Chinese leader Xi urges Communist Party

A man waves the Chinese flag to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong's handover from Britain to China on July 1, 2022.

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Hong Kong (CNN)Chinese leader Xi Jinping has urged the Communist Party to "win hearts and minds" of people in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan as part of a "national rejuvenation."

Xi's demand, made over the weekend in a meeting attended by top Chinese officials, was one of a number of critical tasks listed by the Chinese leader for the United Front Work Department -- a branch of the ruling Communist Party tasked with gaining influence both at home and overseas.
"The united front ... is an important assurance for (China's Communist Party) to defeat the enemy, to govern and rejuvenate the country, and to rally all Chinese people both at home and abroad to realize national rejuvenation," Xi said at the Beijing conference on United Front Work, according to state-run news agency Xinhua.
    As "profound changes" unseen in a century were playing out globally, Xi said, United Front efforts were "even more important." That work, according to Xi, should include efforts to "strike the right balance between commonality and diversity" at home and "win hearts and minds of people in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan as well as overseas Chinese."
      Hong Kong -- the subject of a crackdown by Xi following mass pro-democracy protests in the city three years ago -- operates as a semi-autonomous entity under Beijing's rule, as does Macao. Taiwan is a self-ruled democracy the Communist Party claims as its own territory and with which it has said it seeks "reunification," despite never having governed it.
      "Efforts should be made to strengthen the ranks of patriots overseas, and help more foreigners understand and become friendly to China," Xi added.
      Chinese leader Xi Jinping delivers a speech at a central conference on the United Front Work Department in Beijing.
      The United Front's operations, which include running the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office responsible for services aimed at Chinese nationals living abroad, have drawn negative international attention in recent years amid growing concerns about China's bid for global reach.
        The department has also raised the suspicions of overseas governments amid accusations it seeks to co-opt ethnic Chinese people and other individuals, silence dissent and conduct foreign influence operations -- allegations Beijing has denied.
        Meanwhile, the United Front's domestic operations -- long seen as a way to stifle potential opposition to the Communist Party -- have been viewed negatively internationally in light of a crackdown on certain religious and ethnic groups, which also fall under the purview of the United Front.

        'Critical moment'

        Xi, who elevated the importance of the United Front Work Department during his first term, is seeking to step into a third term this fall, an unprecedented move in recent decades and one that comes at a difficult time for China.
        The country is facing numerous challenges from an economic slowdown at home to a significant decline in its global reputation, amid tensions with Western governments over China's alleged human rights violations in Xinjiang, its crackdown on civil society in Hong Kong, and threats toward Taiwan.