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Party branch set at Wal-Mart office

Communists seek a role in China's foreign companies

Shoppers outside the Wal-Mart mall in Shenyang, China. Workers at Wal-Mart's China headquarters have established a Communist Party branch. Shoppers outside the Wal-Mart mall in Shenyang, China. Workers at Wal-Mart's China headquarters have established a Communist Party branch. (associated Press/File)

BEIJING -- Employees at the China headquarters of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have set up a Communist Party branch, part of a growing campaign to expand the ruling party's presence in foreign companies.

The move follows the success of China's state-sanctioned labor body in setting up unions at Wal-Mart outlets this year. The company is one of China's biggest and most prominent foreign employers, with a work force of 36,000 and 68 stores.

The party branch was set up Friday at Wal-Mart headquarters in the southern city of Shenzhen, according to the party newspaper People's Daily and a Wal-Mart spokesman, Jonathan Dong.

"Quite a few of our associates are party members already, so they have a right to establish branch organizations," he said.

Dong didn't know whether Wal-Mart would have any formal interaction with the branch or whether its establishment would affect operations. Employees who answered the phone at the party's Shenzhen office said they had no information on what the branch would do.

Several of Wal-Mart's Chinese stores already have Communist Party branches. The first was set up Aug. 12 in the northeastern city of Shenyang.

The party branch there has said it would not interfere in store management. An official quoted by the state Xinhua News Agency said it would encourage members "to play an exemplary role in doing a good job" and to help the company grow.

Many foreign companies in China have party branches, either officially or unofficially.

China's 70 million-member Communist Party and its affiliated All-China Federation of Trade Unions, or ACFTU, are trying to expand their presence in foreign companies to keep pace with a fast-changing society amid capitalist-style economic reform.

State industry, their traditional base, has slashed millions of jobs while private companies are creating tens of millions more. In a bid to stay relevant, the party has begun offering membership to entrepreneurs and others in the new private economy.

Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, Ark., resisted the creation of unions at its Chinese stores for two years before agreeing in August to help the ACFTU organize its workers. The company has few unions elsewhere in its worldwide operations.

The party and labor expansion campaigns were ordered in March by President Hu Jintao, who also is the party's general secretary, according to Chinese media.

"Do a better job of building [Communist] Party organizations and trade unions in foreign-invested enterprises," the order said, according to the newspaper Beijing News.

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