Hong Kong democracy advocates angry after Ottawa-funded group buys ad backing China’s side

Understandably so:

A Chinese Canadian group that has received more than $130,000 in federal funding published a newspaper advertisement that condemned democracy protesters in Hong Kong and closely mirrored Beijing’s stance on unrest in the city.

Critics of the regime say they’re appalled that Canadian taxpayers are backing an organization that would pay to intervene on China’s side in the Hong Kong turmoil, likely at the behest of Chinese officials.

But it’s not the only recent example of federal funding linked to activities that support Beijing, as the two countries remain locked in a tense diplomatic standoff.

The ad placed by the “non-political” Council of Newcomer Organizations appeared weeks before a festival co-organized by China’s consulate general in Toronto, designed in part to celebrate the 70 th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic.

Our government is using taxpayers’ money to enable CCP influence and infiltration into our society and politics

Heritage Canada gave a multiculturalism grant of $62,000 to last month’s “Dragon Festival” through the event’s other organizer, the Canadian Association of Chinese Performing Arts.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government invited the heads of both the newcomer council — which was founded by Liberal MP Geng Tan — and the performing arts group to attend this week’s anniversary celebrations in Beijing.

Council executive chairman Zhu Jiang was quoted as saying he wept as he witnessed the military parade through Tiananmen Square Tuesday, realizing how much he “loved the motherland.”

“Our taxpayers’ money should have never been used to fund such organizations and activities,” said Ivy Li, a spokeswoman for the group Canadian Friends of Hong Kong. “By doing so, our government is using taxpayers’ money to enable CCP (Chinese Communist Party) influence and infiltration into our society and politics. This is a total betrayal of Canadian voters.”

It is “very troubling” that Ottawa helped pay for an event — the Dragon Festival — that marked a totalitarian state’s anniversary, added Cheuk Kwan of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China. The consulate “should be funding the whole thing, and then they can make whatever speech they want,” he said.

Heritage Canada, the main funder of the newcomer council, was unable to comment by deadline.

Neither the newcomer council nor Dragon Festival organizers could be reached for comment.

Critics say the incidents are just the latest examples of China’s long soft-power reach into Canadian society, with the added wrinkle of financial support from Ottawa.

Beijing has reportedly poured increasing resources into such efforts in recent years, the influence campaigns spearheaded by a party branch called the United Front Work Department (which reportedly invited Zhu to the anniversary gala). Its actions have come under newfound scrutiny in Canada as the feud with China unfolds.

The arrest in January of Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou under an extradition treaty with the U.S. touched off an angry response from Beijing. China imprisoned two Canadians on ill-defined espionage charges, abruptly increased a Canadian’s drug-trafficking sentence to death from 15 years in jail, and imposed trade barriers on billions in Canadian agricultural imports.

The Council of Newcomer Organizations placed its ad in the Chinese Canadian Times — a free, Chinese-language newspaper that claims a “vast distribution network across Ontario” — in early August.

At that point, the Hong Kong demonstrations had been mostly peaceful, bringing a million or more people to the streets some days to oppose a now-defunct extradition law, decry alleged police brutality and call for more democracy.

The council’s ad dismissed the protests as a foreign-incited assault on the city’s stability, much as the strife has been characterized by China itself.

“Recently, certain self-serving political actors who do not hesitate to collude with foreign anti-Chinese powers, luring young extremist activists to be their cannon fodder, have continuously violated the peace of Hong Kong,” it said in part.

Heritage Canada said it has funded the council to the tune of $99,760 over the past several years. Employment and Social Development Canada granted it $38,000 in 2016.

The council’s own website — which describes the group as non-political — suggests an orientation toward China.

Much of the site is devoted to sports events, essay contests and other activities for local young people. But one of five sections in the English version – headed “legislation” – lists summaries of several Chinese laws, including one outlining restrictions on religious activities by foreigners. And there are several articles about “roots-seeking” trips for youth to China, organized by Beijing’s Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, part of the United Front.

Last month’s Dragon Festival outside Toronto’s City Hall involved booths and performances highlighting Chinese arts, food and culture.

But at its launch, one master of ceremonies said in Mandarin it was also an early celebration of “the 70th birthday of our motherland.” In his speech, Consul General Han Tao said the festival should help increase understanding and friendship between peoples, and then referenced the 70 th anniversary on Oct. 1 and China’s rise from a “poor and weak” nation to the world’s second-largest economy.

A consulate press release on the festival said in Chinese it would include events to “celebrate the (ancestral) homeland” on the occasion of the anniversary.

Source: Hong Kong democracy advocates angry after Ottawa-funded group buys ad backing China’s side

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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