Federally funded Canadian group used by China to spread propaganda on Uyghurs: report

Need for greater due diligence in funding and in all areas:

Two Canadian community organizations — one of which has received thousands of dollars in federal funding — are prime examples of how the Chinese government has tried to covertly shape opinions worldwide about human rights abuses in Xinjiang province, says a new report by Australian academics.

A profile of the Xinjiang Association of Canada and the Ontario-based Council of Newcomer Organizations — which was co-founded by a former Liberal MP — forms one of four case studies in the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Cultivating Friendly Forces report.

The two groups and their leaders have consistently promoted Beijing’s talking points on the region in the face of growing evidence of mass human rights abuses against Xinjiang’s Muslim populations, says the working paper by James Leibold, a professor at Melbourne’s La Trobe University, and Lin Li.

The groups have been supported by China’s diplomatic missions in Canada, while at least two of their directors were invited to attend events in China as privileged “overseas Chinese” leaders, says the report, based mostly on Chinese-language media reports and other open source material from the internet.

“The CCP (Chinese Communist Party) uses these organs as conduits for the spread of propaganda about the ‘harmony, prosperity and happiness’ of people in Xinjiang while deflecting and denying international criticism of its well-documented human rights abuses in the region,” the analysis charges.

Such groups “can sow distrust and fear in the community, mislead politicians, journalists and the public, influence government policies, cloud our assessment of the situation in Xinjiang and disguise the CCP’s interference in foreign countries.”

The report urges more efforts by the media, academia and government to expose the Chinese government’s global interference, including with the use of effective foreign-influence registries.

The National Post contacted leaders of the two groups and China’s Ottawa embassy for comment on the report but had not received a response by deadline.

The report came as no surprise to Mehmet Tohti, head of the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project.

The Chinese influence campaign against the Uyghur diaspora has several facets, including intimidation of community members and “hostage taking” like the 2006 imprisonment of Canadian activist Huseyin Celil, as well as “disseminating disinformation and fake narratives,” he said by email.

“We may see more vigorous moves from China by awakening its sleeper cells in Canada and around the world to promote its narrative on Uyghur genocide and forced labour,” Tohti added.

Human rights organizations, media outlets and the United Nations have revealed large-scale repression of Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang, including forced labour, mass sterilization and re-education camps believed to hold more than a million people.

The Canadian parliament, the U.S. and other countries have accused China of genocide, though Beijing denies the charges and insists it is simply bringing peace to a region afflicted by unrest and terrorism.

The report documents how China is trying to counter the charges, partly through the use of local community groups that purport to represent immigrants from Xinjiang or that simply promote Beijing’s line on the issue. It says the effort is spearheaded by the United Front Work Department, a party branch dedicated to extending China’s influence abroad and greatly expanded in recent years.

The 12-year-old Xinjiang Association of Canada is a good example of ties between such groups and China’s colonizing efforts in the region, says the report.

It’s made up mostly of Han Chinese — the country’s dominant group — and its launch was attended by the consul general and other Chinese diplomats in Toronto. The group invites local politicians and consular officials to events celebrating Uyghur and Han festivals, “then uses these public events to present a harmonious picture of Xinjiang and its diasporic population,” the working paper says.

Founding president Zhu Jiang’s parents migrated to Xinjiang from China proper as part of efforts to change its ethnic make-up and he joined the People’s Liberation Army at age 15. The report includes a photograph of Zhu in PLA uniform while a player for the Xinjiang Military Command.

He immigrated to Canada in 2001 and in 2019 was invited by the United Front Work Department in Xinjiang and China’s Toronto consulate to attend the lavish celebrations of the People’s Republic’s 70th anniversary. One local news outlet quoted him as saying the event’s military parade made him realize how much he “loved the motherland,” the National Post reported at the time.

Zhu has consistently defended China’s actions in the region, with state-run China News quoting him in 2019 as criticizing the U.S. House of Representatives’ Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act.

Zhu was also for a time head of the Council of Newcomer Organizations, an umbrella group that included his Xinjiang association. As also reported previously by the Post, the council issued a statement last year decrying the House of Commons’ Xinjiang genocide motion, saying it was based on “unsubstantiated rumours.”

“The council’s statement was then reported by China’s state media to prove that members of the Chinese diaspora disagree with the Canadian parliament’s decision,” noted the report.

By last year, the council had received at least $160,000 in grants from various federal government departments, the most recent for an elder-abuse program.

Zhu was succeeded as head of the newcomer council by Han Jialing, who also has publicly documented ties to Beijing. As Zhu was at the anniversary celebrations in 2019, Han was “class captain” of a “carefully selected” group of overseas Chinese leaders invited to a seminar in China on the nation’s “great achievements” and thoughts of President Xi Jinping.

Leibold acknowledged in an interview that China is not alone in trying to shape opinion abroad. But its influence campaign differs from others in sheer scale — it has more diplomats registered in Canada than any nation other than the U.S. and more missions globally than anyone else — as well as the co-opting of community groups and the fact its efforts are largely covert, he said.

“What distinguishes it … is the tendency to operate in the shadows: the clandestine work that occurs behind the scenes, out of the public eye,” said the politics professor. “It’s … really quite different than what we see amongst free and democratic societies.”

Australian and New Zealand scholars such as Leibold have largely dominated academic attempts to investigate Beijing’s foreign influence efforts. But the work is becoming increasingly difficult as much of the information that was once freely available online is falling off the internet, he said. Indeed, the Council of Newcomer’s Organizations’ extensive website has disappeared.

And the research comes at a personal cost, said Leibold.

He said he’s been denied visas to visit China — the main subject of his research — while Li is “very worried” about possible retaliation against her friends and relatives in China.

Source: Federally funded Canadian group used by China to spread propaganda on Uyghurs: report 

Glavin: Neil Young vs Spotify, and the gathering storm

Good column:

The fight the legendary hippie singer-songwriter Neil Young brought to the music-streaming giant Spotify on Monday over the privileged place it provides a wildly popular podcast by the contrarian comedian and former wrestling colour-commentator Joe Rogan appears to have ended as quickly as it began. But the wider war is gathering steam.

“I am doing this because Spotify is spreading fake information about vaccines,” Young said. Either Rogan goes or I go, he told the Stockholm-based audio-streaming giant. On Wednesday, Spotify responded: Off you go, then. By Thursday, Young had decamped with his entire 45-album backlist and all his bread to Apple Music, while Rogan’s big-tent circuses, with their sideshow freaks and thrill rides, will carry on, as before, with Spotify.

It all sounds so frivolous, but it isn’t, because the public-policy hostilities arising from our common captivity in the grip of COVID-19, now in the first days of the third year of SARS-CoV-2, are only becoming more pronounced with every passing day. Millions are dead, the stricken keep on dying, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to discern what the basic facts are and the uproars are unfolding in the midst of what has been called a “crisis of epistemology.”

That’s the philosophical way of describing the erosion of common understandings about not just what the truth is, but about how we’re all supposed to go about the work of figuring out what the truth is in the first place. Facts used to matter. Now, not so much.

Rogan stands accused of engaging in dezinformatsiya, as the Russians elegantly describe the traffic in dangerous half-truths and lies deployed as offensive weaponry in propaganda warfare. Specifically, Rogan’s offside notions about vaccines and masks are widely understood to make him a dangerous menace to public health. While he’s helpfully referred to himself as a “moron” for suggesting young people shouldn’t bother themselves with COVID vaccinations, the former “Fear Factor” game show host’s Spotify broadcast, the Joe Rogan Experience, still draws roughly 11 million listeners per episode.

I should straight away confess my own loyalties this week were to the cause of Team Neil. One must take sides, after all. Sorry, but that’s how these proxy wars work. There’s little room for conscientious objection, and the alliances that form up can draw the most disparate and ordinarily unfriendly parties to one another in the same blocs, rallying behind banners that wouldn’t otherwise summon them.

In all the epistemic chaos abroad in the Anglosphere—it churns and roils its way through the culture only most noticeably in the undying allegiance of millions of Americans to the disgraced former president Donald Trump—we’ve reached the point where the pandemic’s early public consensus and trust in government experts, in Canada at least, appears to be collapsing.

Canadians almost invariably end up adopting the culture-war habits Americans torture themselves with, so there’s now a “small fringe minority of people who are on their way to Ottawa who are holding unacceptable views that they are expressing.” This is how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau inelegantly described the convoys of truckers and their camp followers rumbling along Canada’s highways in their Peterbilts and Kenworths, and Freightliners and Macks, intent upon converging in Ottawa this weekend.

The On-to-Ottawa organizers insist they are against vaccine mandates imposed upon anyone, not just cross-border truckers, but many protesters appear to share more seething anger and frustration than any clear and coherent objective. Parliament Hill police were planning on about 10,000 people showing up. It’s been a bit unsettling to consider how all this might end up playing out, because there are some genuinely nasty characters who have insinuated themselves into the anti-mandate protests. The Parliamentary Protective Service insists that everything would proceed according to routine this weekend, but it still seems unlikely that events will go on to resolve themselves quite as efficiently as they appeared to in the Young-Rogan conflict.

It wasn’t just a quarrel about Spotify’s royalty rates or shuffle features. The Spotify rumpus was at least partly about whether a musician like Young could use his enormous star power to force an audio-streaming company with roughly 380 million monthly users to ditch what could be described, in the most charitable terms, as the world’s most popular streaming public-affairs talk show. But it’s also about money. A lot of money.

Rogan signed an exclusive contract with Spotify two years ago, reportedly worth more than $100 million, and Spotify is discovering that there’s more profit to be had in podcasts than in archiving digital versions of yesteryear’s hit singles. Young, who had six million monthly listeners on Spotify last week, sold his music catalogue to publisher Hipgnosis last year for $150 million. While Young says losing his him-or-me ultimatum would cost him 60 per cent of his streaming-service revenue, it’s not like his abdication from Spotify will cause him any pain.

Young’s net worth is estimated at $200 million. Now that Apple Music has declared itself Young’s new streaming home, Young’s earnings shouldn’t be disrupted all that dramatically. So as tidy as some of us might want it, this story is not so simple as a moral tale about a shaggy and lanky iconic veteran protest singer, in his 76th year, gallantly impoverishing himself by bravely sticking it to the man.

In normal times, there’s hardly anything even newsworthy about celebrities throwing themselves into causes. They do it all the time and they’re often pretty weird. There are celebrities against circumcision, celebrities against Oprah Winfrey and celebrities against meat. There have always been celebrities against vaccines. Now there are celebrities against COVID lockdowns.

“No more taking of our freedom And our God-given rights, Pretending its for our safety When it’s really to enslave . . .” That’s a lyric line from a one of several anti-mandate songs recently released by Van Morrison, the usually mild-mannered Northern Irish musical icon whose lyrics are sometimes so ethereal as to be comparable to the poetry of the English mystic William Blake.

Early on in the pandemic, Noel Gallagher, the force behind the chart-topping band Oasis, vowed that he would not wear a mask when he was out at the shops. Only last weekend, the Marvel star Evangeline Lilly joined prominent vaccine skeptic Robert F. Kennedy at an anti-mandate rally in Washington D.C.

Last September’s celebrity COVID eruption was perhaps the most amusing. That’s when pop star Nicki Minaj drew unwanted attention to herself by claiming that a cousin’s friend in Trinidad had been abandoned at the altar by a bride who was displeased by the way a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine had made the groom’s testicles swell.

Nicki Minaj has 22 million Twitter followers. Joe Rogan’s Twitter crew, incidentally, numbers eight million. And now there’s a #DeleteSpotify thing on Twitter that’s taking off.

In this bizarre new world where celebrities are taken to be epidemiologists and the toxins of antisemitism are as prevalent on the “left” as they’ve conventionally been situated on the “right,” it’s not especially helpful to dismiss all those angry truckers as a pack of howling white supremacists. Something’s happening here, to borrow a Buffalo Springfield lyric from Young’s late 60s heyday, and what it is ain’t exactly clear.

Jonathan Rauch, the journalist, author, Atlantic magazine fixture and senior fellow in governance studies with the Brookings Institution, proposes a helpful way of comprehending the perplexing phenomena of the times. It goes like this.

Just as the formalized political rules that derive from the American constitution are necessary to make American democracy work, the ways that knowledge itself is constituted are necessary for politics in liberal democracies to work. And the system is close to broken.

In his just-published book, the Constitution of Knowledge: A Defence of Truth, Rauch describes how the space occupied by what he calls the “reality-based community” is shrinking. Its customs and conventions are falling away. The intellectual strata that has conventionally distilled truth from facts and data and goes about the work of constituting knowledge—historians, social scientists, journalists, policy-makers, jurists—is succumbing to cultures of enforced conformity that stagnate in their own hived-off echo chambers.

Ideological rigidity, speech codes, Twitter-induced outrage spasms and a strict emphasis on consistency with “narrative” are supplanting the social mechanisms that have long served to transform disagreement into knowledge. We are counselled to assess truth claims by sizing up the people “who are holding unacceptable views that they are expressing,” as Trudeau put it. The norms and institutions forged over decades by peer review, humility, fact-checking, good-faith debate and the evaluation of truth claims against objective evidence, verification and replication—it’s all up for grabs.

It’s not just that facts don’t seem to matter anymore. It’s that it doesn’t seem to matter that facts don’t matter.

Source: Neil Young vs Spotify, and the gathering storm