Daphne Bramham: Concerns raised about Chinese interference in Canada’s fall election

Of note:

Ivy Li worries that the Chinese Communist Party might be able to affect the outcome of Canada’s fall election using a campaign of disinformation and by silencing critics.

Li is not alone. Li helped organize a recent dialogue that featured Jonathan Manthorpe, author of the best-selling book, The Claws of the Panda: Beijing’s Campaign of Influence and Intimidation in Canada, where she and others talked about their fears and experiences.

Last week, Reporters Sans Frontieres noted its own concerns in a report titled China’s Pursuit of a New World Media Order.

In his book, Manthorpe — the former Vancouver Sun Asia correspondent and foreign affairs columnist — writes that Canada has become “a battleground on which the Chinese Communist Party seeks to terrorize, humiliate and neuter its opponents.”

It is “a war of intimidation and harassment” that seeks to smother, silence or discredit dissenters, especially those from “the Five Poisonous Groups — advocates of independence for Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan, promoters of democracy in China, and adherents of Falun Gong.”

Manthorpe documents how Chinese-language publications in Canada have muzzled and fired journalists and how wealthy Chinese-Canadians with business ties to China and organizations linked to the Chinese government’s United Front have been involved with candidates from various parties in past elections.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there wasn’t a single journalist from the Chinese-language media at the speaking event organized by Friends of Hong Kong and the Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement.

Only one Chinese media representative responded to organizer Fenella Sung’s invitation. But that journalist declined to come. Why? The journalist was leaving soon for China.

Sung noted that the challenges faced by Chinese-Canadians are real because of family and business ties that they may have to China and the fact that the communist party and the Chinese government regard the overseas diaspora as a bloc.

But she said, “We are in Canada. We don’t have to abide by community norms. Here, it’s okay and normal to think differently. … We have to stick to our own values and principles.”

Yet, as both Manthorpe and Reporters Sans Frontieres note, the Chinese government has made substantial investments in international TV broadcasting, foreign media outlets, advertising, and junkets for foreign journalists and politicians. It has embedded the Confucius Institute in schools and universities.

As for social media, the Reporters Sans Frontieres report calls it the new battleground where disinformation is spread by an army of paid and unpaid trolls on the government-linked messaging service WeChat and on micro-blogging sites.

While disinformation campaigns have mainly been directed at Taiwan and Singapore, Reporters Sans Frontieres says WeChat is increasingly being used to spread fake news in Canada and the United States.

In Canada, WeChat initially censored news of the December arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver pending extradition to the United States on fraud charges.

The report says the Chinese government’s expansion into media “poses a direct threat not only to the media but also to democracies.” It goes on to say that unless democracies resist, Chinese citizens will lose all hope of ever seeing press freedom in their country.

And it warns, “Chinese-style propaganda will increasingly compete with journalism outside China, thereby threatening the ability of citizens everywhere to freely choose their destiny.”

Li echoed those fears.

“We can’t succumb to intimidation,” she said. “The more we do it — especially those who are in the Chinese-Canadian media — the more we play into the hands of the (Chinese Communist Party). If we toe the line, we become silent partners of the (party).”

Others spoke about being torn between the country they have chosen and the country where they were born. They talked about fearing reprisals against family they have left behind or the businesses they are running, if they are critical of the Chinese government.

As one of the organizers, Li spoke last. She urged Chinese-Canadians to speak up in support of non-Chinese critics when Chinese officials and their supporters try to silence them with accusations of racism.

In December, China’s ambassador in Ottawa, Lu Shaye, accused Canada and Canadians of “white supremacy” in response to Ottawa’s request for the release of two Canadians detained without charges and held in an unknown location in retaliation for Meng’s arrest.

It was intended as a slap in the face to all Canadians. Instead, it serves as an ironic reminder that everyone in this country has the right to speak openly and critically without fear of reprisal, even if they don’t have diplomatic immunity.

Freedom and democracy is why Li chose Canada and why she urged Chinese-Canadians to be “the leading force to counter (Chinese Communist Party) campaigns of influence and intimidation.”

“Are we protecting the things that we came here for? That’s our responsibility as immigrants,” she said. “Because if we endanger those things, it’s not fair to Canada. And it’s not fair to ourselves.”

Source: Daphne Bramham: Concerns raised about Chinese interference in Canada’s fall election

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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