Canadian officials knew for years existing laws didn’t curb foreign influence

Sigh….:

Canadian officials have known for years that the country’s existing laws did not cover foreign governments’ interference in domestic politics, documents reviewed by Global News suggest

The documents were unearthed just as Canada’s public safety minister said the government was looking at ways to beef up its defence against foreign influence in domestic affairs.

December 2020 emails at Global Affairs Canada, obtained by Global News under access to information law, state that officials were aware that some types of foreign influence in Canadian politics slipped through the cracks of existing laws. Examples in the documents include foreign investment in university research, as well as “communications activities” to promote foreign agendas.

Canadian intelligence officials and Parliament’s national security committee have cautioned for years that foreign governments – most notably China, Russia, and Iran – are actively trying to influence Canadian affairs. Some of this activity is overt, while other influence operations remain in the shadows.

The documents reviewed by Global News were part of preparations for a House of Commons speech by former Global Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne on the issue of Chinese interference in Canadian politics.

The speech, drafted for a December late debate in the House of Commons at the prompting of the opposition Conservatives, originally suggested existing laws were sufficient to curb foreign influence. But an objection from a foreign affairs bureaucrat – their name was censored in the documents – cautioned that wasn’t true.

“There are several situations not covered by the Lobbying Act and the Conflict of Interest Act, such as for instance an agent undertaking communication activity or engaging in a big disbursement of activities on behalf of a foreign government,” the email reads.

“Some of these activities would be covered if happening under election periods by the Canada Elections Act, but foreign interference is not limited to those periods.”

The official gave the example of foreign powers funding university research “in order to promote certain narratives or muzzle others.” Canada’s intelligence agencies – including the Canadians Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) – have recently dramatically increased their partnerships with university research institutions, particularly during the COVID-19 crisis.

Source: Canadian officials knew for years existing laws didn’t curb foreign influence

Urback: Defending our elections from Chinese interference should be a nonpartisan cause

Agree:

At the ASEAN Summit in Cambodia this weekend, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked by Global News reporter Mackenzie Gray if he plans to bring up allegations of China’s interference in Canadian elections with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the upcoming G20 summit.

Mr. Trudeau demurred.

“We created a special independent commission made up of top officials and security experts to ensure that our elections continue to be free and fair in Canada,” he said. “And in both the 2019 and 2021 elections, they reported that our elections unfolded with integrity.”

The Prime Minister’s response did not acknowledge that a week earlier, a top official at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) told a House of Commons committee that China was a “foremost aggressor” on foreign interference, while acknowledging that Canada lacks the tools to properly assess and respond to the threat posed by Beijing. Years of reports – from Rapid Response Mechanism Canada (a research unit based out of Global Affairs), from the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, from Canadian disinformation monitoring group DisinfoWatch, and from Canada’s own intelligence agency, as recently reported by Global News – have all suggested that Beijing or pro-Beijing actors meddled in recent Canadian elections.

So Mr. Trudeau was asked again: “Are you going to raise this specific issue with [Mr. Xi]?”

“As always I will raise issues of human rights, issues of matters that preoccupy Canadians, with any and all leaders that I engage,” he said.

It was a curious response to a straightforward question, a hedge that echoed the sort of defiance Americans would often hear from former president Donald Trump when he was asked about Russian meddling in American elections. Indeed, even when presented with evidence from his own intelligence agencies, Mr. Trump would often equivocate: “It could have been other people in other countries,” he said in 2017.

Mr. Trudeau’s sidestepping of the question wouldn’t have been unusual from this Prime Minister months or even weeks ago. Ottawa has maintained a sort of timid ambivalence toward Beijing for years, even in the face of human rights atrocitiesallegedly being carried out by the Xi regime, retaliatory trade bans, and of course, the more than 1,000 days during which two Canadian citizens were effectively held hostage in response to the RCMP’s arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou to extradite her to the United States.

But just last week, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly signalled that the days of Ottawa tiptoeing around the sleeping giant are over.

In a speech ahead of the release of the government’s new Indo-Pacific strategy expected later this month, Ms. Joly laid out a new approach to China that represents a significant departure from that of even the recent past. While pragmatic about the need to continue trade with the world’s second-largest economy, Ms. Joly called China an “increasingly disruptive global power” and indicated that Canada will increase investment in stationing diplomats abroad to better understand how China “thinks, operates and plans.” When asked specifically about the Global News report stating that CSIS had briefed Mr. Trudeau on Chinese interference in the 2019 election, Ms. Joly replied: “We won’t let any foreign actor meddle in our democracy, period.”

The Conservative Party has long insisted that Canada needs to get tougher on China, and it maintains that Beijing was behind the spread of misinformation on platforms like WeChat about Conservative candidates during the last election. One particular target was former B.C. MP Kenny Chiu, who put forward a private member’s bill in 2021 to create a foreign-agent registry in Canada, modelled after legislation enacted in Australia in 2018, which would have required individuals acting on behalf of a foreign power to be publicly registered. But the effort was misrepresented in diaspora communities as an effort to “suppress” all Chinese-Canadians, and Mr. Chiu’s bill died when the last election was called; similar legislation brought forward by Senator Leo Housakos has been hung up in the Senate for months.

That needs to change, now. Indeed, if Ottawa is really serious about taking a new, tougher approach to Beijing, it offers the Liberals and Conservatives an opportunity to work together on an issue that is of nonpartisan importance. The integrity of Canadian elections affects everyone – what good is democracy if citizens don’t believe we come by it honestly, after all? – and it should be a matter for which there is no equivocation. Mr. Trudeau should pledge to bring up election interference with Mr. Xi at the G20 not because it will deter Beijing’s clandestine operations to any means, but as a signal to all Canadians – not to mention to our allies – that on the matter of election interference, we are determined and united.

Source: Defending our elections from Chinese interference should be a nonpartisan cause

Phillips: Don’t brush off attempts to undermine our democracy. We should know which politicians got China’s money

Indeed:

Can we take a break from lecturing Americans about the state of their democracy and focus for a bit on problems with our own?

Canadians love to watch from a safe distance when all the horrors and glories of the American political system are on display, as they are this week as we comb through the results of their midterm elections.

We especially love to pat ourselves on the back for the fact that our system is, for the most part, mercifully free of the most extreme elements of U.S. politics. That’s mostly just good for our national self-regard, but it would be a shame if it distracts us from the disturbing possibility that a foreign power has been actively interfering in our own recent national elections, even changing the outcome in at least one case.

Put like that, it sounds far-fetched. But Global News reported this week that Canada’s intelligence service, CSIS, warned federal ministers in January that China has targeted this country with a “vast campaign of foreign interference.”

According to the report, CSIS told the government that Beijing funded a “clandestine network” of at least 11 federal candidates, including both Liberals and Conservatives, in the 2019 federal election. It also placed “agents” in the offices of MPs to influence policy and mounted “aggressive campaigns” to punish Canadian politicians it saw as threats to its interests.

Asked about this, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau didn’t deny it. Instead, he essentially confirmed the report by saying some “state actors,” including China, continue to “play aggressive games with our institutions, with our democracies.”

The government then went on, through a speech by Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly, to sketch out its long-awaited Indo-Pacific strategy. This is the famous “eyes wide open” approach, whereby Canada will take a more cautious stance toward China and try to deepen links with other Asian nations, in particular India.

But hang on a moment — let’s not change the channel quite so fast. Those CSIS briefings were pretty specific, according to Global’s Sam Cooper. They alleged that the Chinese government funnelled money through proxies to almost a dozen candidates in a federal election and worked to undermine others.

So many questions. Which candidates got the money? How many of them won, and how many lost? For those who did get money, did they know who was ultimately behind it or were they ignorant of what was going on? And which candidates did China work against? What happened to them?

Finally, was this activity limited to just the 2019 election, or was it happening before or after? A former Canadian ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, says he believes “several Conservative MPs” lost their seats in the 2019 and 2021 elections because China targeted them through social media networks in the Chinese community.

We know the name of at least one who was probably singled out. Conservative MP Kenny Chiu lost his Vancouver-area seat in 2021 after he introduced a bill to set up a registry of agents for foreign governments (something Canada should certainly have). He immediately found himself labelled as anti-Chinese in Chinese-language social media, and is convinced Beijing’s operatives were behind the campaign to defeat him.

Now it seems he wasn’t the only one, if the CSIS briefing to the government is to be believed. It’s in line with many warnings over the years from Canada’s top intelligence officials that China has been actively meddling in our domestic politics, partly by working through sympathetic politicians and partly by manipulating votes in Chinese communities.

Isn’t this something we should know more about? The government received that CSIS briefing in January, but as far as we know it did nothing. 

It’s important to look at the big picture by elaborating a new Indo-Pacific strategy. And judging by Joly’s speech this week, the government seems to be broadly on the right track. 

But in the meantime, we shouldn’t brush off a real attempt to undermine our democracy. Let’s start by asking where that Chinese money went, and to whom.

Source: Don’t brush off attempts to undermine our democracy. We should know which politicians got China’s money

Pierre Poilievre is demanding it — but insiders reveal why Canada won’t brand this Iran military group as terrorists

The same day the Globe publishes commentary arguing the government should explain itself (it should publicly rather than indirectly), The Star provides a good explainer, and there have been a number of articles in various publications regarding some Iranian Canadians who have not been able to enter the USA given their having been low-level conscripts in the IRGC:

The Canadian government has not yet designated Iran’s revolutionary guard corps as a terrorist entity over concerns the action would be overbroad, difficult to enforce and unfairly target potentially thousands of Iranians in Canada who may have been conscripted by Iran’s military, sources tell the Star.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday his government will hold the “bloodthirsty regime to account,” and that Canada will continue to sanction the leadership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, but he stopped short of answering yes or no to Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s demand he recognize the IRGC as a terrorist group.

Faced with growing calls for action by the Conservatives, families of Canadian victims killed when Iran shot down flight PS752 and now in the face of a global uproar over the death of a young Iranian woman who wasn’t wearing a hijab, the federal Liberal government says it intends to “do more” to sanction human rights abuses by the Iranian regime.

“Everything is absolutely on the table,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Wednesday.

“Some of this is very complicated, getting the details right is complicated, avoiding collateral damage is important,” Freeland said, the day after meeting with families of the 2020 plane crash victims.

Freeland added, “But from my perspective, there’s actually something very simple at the heart of this, which is Canada and Canadians need to be on the side of women — women and students who are brave enough to protest, and not on the side of misogynist repressive theocrats.”

Canadian government officials have “for years” looked at the question of putting the IRGC, a branch of Iran’s armed forces, on the terrorist list under the Criminal Code, three sources said.

But ministers this week have repeatedly declined to state why Canada has not done so already.

Source: Pierre Poilievre is demanding it — but insiders reveal why Canada won’t brand this Iran military group as terrorists

Burton: Why are Chinese police operating in Canada, while our own government and security services apparently look the other way?

Good questions:

In China, the high-profile TV drama In The Name Of The People has become a smash hit. In that show, Chinese agents enter the U.S. posing as businessmen so they can repatriate a factory manager who had fled abroad with huge ill-gotten wealth.

But a new study by the European non-governmental agency Safeguard Defenders suggests that there might be some truth to the fiction. According to the NGO, the Fuzhou Public Security Bureau has established more than 50 “overseas police service centres” in cities around the world – including three publicly documented ones in Toronto, home to Canada’s largest Chinese diaspora.

This is an outrage. Chinese police setting up offices in Canada, then “persuading” alleged criminals to return to the motherland to face “justice” – while our own government and security services apparently choose to look the other way – represents a gross violation of Canada’s national sovereignty, international law and the norms of diplomacy. China is extending the grip of its Orwellian police state into this country, with seemingly no worry about being confronted by our own national security agencies.

The RCMP and politicians of all stripes routinely condemn Chinese state harassment of people in Canada, but what action has been taken? There have been no arrests or any expulsion of any Chinese diplomats who might be co-ordinating this kind of thuggery.

Beijing describes these global police outposts as administrative centres to help Chinese nationals renew driver’s licences and other domestic banalities back home. But the Safeguard Defenders study found that they also hunt down political dissidents, corrupt officials or rogue Chinese alleged criminals and urge them to return home.

The summary says some of these operatives are given cover by being formally attached to local Chinese Overseas Home Associations (which have themselves largely become co-opted by the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work operations and run out of China’s embassy and consulates).

This bold strategy is consistent with China’s propensity for routinely flouting international laws, including those that require any other country’s police wishing to gather evidence in Canada to work through the RCMP.

In the case of these “police service centres,” Safeguard Defenders reports that agents press their targets to return home, including by offering vague promises of leniency or even urging families back home to encourage them to do so. The officers have taken aim at these alleged (and unproven) criminals by seizing their families’ assets, denying children in China access to schools, and terminating family members’ employment, all in violation of due process.

In Canada, this has been a reality for years. In 2001, during refugee hearings in Vancouver for Lai Changxing – a businessman wanted by Beijing over accusations of corruption and smuggling – Chinese police admitted to entering Canada using fake documents, and even to spiriting in Mr. Lai’s brother in an attempt to convince him to return home. Canadian authorities effectively smiled benignly at this serious breach of criminal and immigration law; Mr. Lai was eventually deported back to China.

Canada is becoming China’s chew toy. Consider Beijing’s alleged disinformation campaign which helped “unfriendly” Conservative MPs of Chinese ethnicity, including Kenny Chiu, lose their seats in the 2021 federal election.

Ottawa wants Canadian businesses to be able to tap into the world’s largest market. But the price of this access appears to be ignoring Beijing’s Canadian agenda, from military and industrial espionage to harassing Canadian Uyghurs, Tibetans, Falun Gong practitioners and ethnic Chinese and Taiwanese people who reject Beijing’s hectoring that they should be loyal to China instead of to Canada.

Does Canada have no security capabilities on the issue? Our police and security agencies must surely know what is going on, but for some reason prefer to simply curate their information rather than act on it. When asked by The Globe and Mail about the police service centres, an RCMP spokesperson said the force would not comment on “uncorroborated media reports or statements.” And most of the information we receive about China’s illegal and “grey zone” activities in Canada typically comes from the U.S. government and well-funded security and intelligence-focused think tanks in Australia and Europe.

The more we ignore reports of China’s growing presence in Canada – including its interference in our electoral process, its potential espionage in our universities and research institutes, and so on – the more emboldened and manipulative Chinese agents become. With no sign that it will be held accountable, China will only increase the size and threat of its operations, because it can.

With its seeming indifference toward China’s blatant contempt for our laws and security, Ottawa is playing an extremely dangerous game with Canada’s sovereignty.

Source: Why are Chinese police operating in Canada, while our own government and security services apparently look the other way?

Burton: Ottawa has continued its mysterious deference to China. What happened to the promised ‘reset’?

Valid questions regarding another policy and delivery failure:

As we mark the six-month anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraineand on world order, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced the creation of a special team in Canada to counter the Kremlin’s raging disinformation campaign.

There is a real need to address this threat to the concept of truth, which is the basis of democracy and human rights. But why limit the team’s mandate to the lies of just one offender? This essentially tells China that Ottawa will not be responding to the more richly funded propaganda scheme being run out of Chinese embassies and consulates across Canada. 

Chinese leader Xi Jinping touts this initiative as one of the Chinese Communist Party’s “magic weapons” of domestic and global manipulation. It has been used to sabotage World Health Organization research into the origins of COVID-19; suppress truth surrounding genocide against Uyghurs; and dissuade influential Canadians from promoting measures that threaten Beijing’s espionage efforts, including Canada’s security and technology partnerships with our allies. 

The propaganda campaign, which includes conspiracy theories promulgated by pro-Beijing Chinese language media in Canada, threatens our democracy. It already cost Canadian MPs of Chinese heritage their seats in the last election, and because we do nothing about it, we can expect more in the next election. The Chinese-language media’s hate-mongering includes accusations of pervasive racism against everybody in Canada with Chinese ancestry. Readers of China’s WeChat and other platforms are implored to respond by identifying with the Motherland and becoming loyal to the Chinese Communist Party.

The disinformation campaign also maligns Canadian citizens of Chinese origin — like Xiao Jianhua, Huseyin Celil and 300,000 or so Canadians resident in Hong Kong — as “Chinese-Canadian passport holders,” implying some lesser Canadian citizenship than European-Canadian passport holders who are simply Canadians, with no hyphenated modifiers. 

Ottawa’s refusal to confront this harassment of Tibetans, Uyghurs, Falun Gong and Chinese democracy activists in Canada is shameful. In 2020, then foreign minister François-Philippe Champagne promised to take action, but nothing happened. Last year Rob Oliphant, parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, said Canada was “actively considering” a registry of foreign agents (similar to U.S. and Australian measures) to counter China’s malign activities in Canada. But this was evidently a hollow promise to appease Canadians’ resentment over China’s subversive operations here.

Canada seems incapable of doing anything about China, due to the incompatibility of the Ottawa doctrine that we must maintain close relations with Beijing regardless of public opinion. When China’s ambassador in Ottawa threatened Canada about crossing a “red line” on Taiwan, warning officials to draw lessons from the past (read: hostage diplomacy) if our MPs set foot in Taiwan, our prime minister didn’t even condemn the remarks, but simply urged MPs to reflect on the “consequences” of such a visit.

The government seems in similar paralysis over naming a new ambassador to China, a position that has been unfilled throughout 2022. Whoever is appointed will inherit the dark shadow of our last two ambassadors — John McCallum and Dominic Barton — who have personal business connections in China and were perceived as promoting Beijing’s interests over Canada’s. When it comes to Chinese diplomacy, Canadians increasingly assume that conflict of interest will prevail over Canada’s national interests and moral integrity. 

Last June, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly announced the formation of Canada’s Indo-Pacific Advisory Committee. After five years of promising a China policy reset, informed sources say the government’s China policy supporters on this committee are debating how to exclude any mention of China whatsoever in our Indo-Pacific policy declaration. 

As this theatre of the absurd drags on, Canada’s lack of a principled China policy is debasing any confidence the U.S. and other allies have in Ottawa’s competence.

Sadly, based on the performance so far, there is no sign of any meaningful China “reset” coming out of Ottawa before the next federal election.

Source: Ottawa has continued its mysterious deference to China. What happened to the promised ‘reset’?

What duty of care does Canada have? Joly denies abandoning Ukrainian embassy staff

This is another embarrassing episode for the government in general, and Global Affairs and Minister Joly in particular. Hopefully any review of “duty of care” will start with a review of relevant historical examples such as Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Iran (1980 and 2012), Afghanistan, and analyse the similarities and differences, along with the policy rationales. But before the report, this letter to the editor provides a sharp contrast to what happened in former Yugoslavia in 1999:
When NATO bombed Yugoslavia in 1999, the Milosevic regime threatened the Serbian staff of member country embassies, labelling them as collaborators from whom retribution would be exacted. Before evacuating the Canadian staff of the embassy in Belgrade, we advanced six months’ salary to all local staff and the immigration section issued visas to them and their immediate families. None of this was directed by what was then Foreign Affairs in Ottawa. Since ambassadors have plenipotentiary powers, I was able to make the necessary decisions sur place. Had we waited for instructions, I am afraid little would have been done. That same inability to act promptly in a crisis may have been the underlying reason for Global Affairs Canada abandoning our local staff in Kyiv. Raphael Girard Former ambassador to Yugoslavia; Montreal
Source: Different time
The Canadian government says it is reviewing its duty to local staff members at missions abroad following a media report that its Ukrainian employees in Kyiv were not alerted to the threats against them and were left to fend for themselves with the Russian invasion looming. On Wednesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly was asked if her office was aware of the intelligence that Ukrainian staff for foreign embassies were allegedly on Russia’s list of targeted individuals — and deliberately withheld the information from the local staff at the mission. “Never did I or the department have any information targeting locally engaged Canadian staff. We never got that information, nor me or my team or the department,” Joly told reporters at a joint news conference with her visiting German counterpart, Annalena Baerbock, after the two met to discuss the energy and food security crises as well as trade. “I know we have a specific duty of care. I know this is in conversations within the department whether that duty of care applies to locally engaged staff. I would say that morally we have an obligation toward locally engaged staff.” This week, the Globe and Mail reported that the Canadian embassy in Kyiv received a secret briefing from allies in January that the Russian invasion was imminent and that Ukrainians working for western countries could face arrest or execution. The Canadian staff members were also reportedly warned not to share the information with their Ukrainian colleagues. Joly said she had spoken “directly” with the locally engaged staff about their safety and security during her visits in Ukraine in January before the war and followed up with the department and Canadian ambassador in Kyiv, Larisa Galadza, on this issue, throughout, including on Feb. 24, when the war was declared. “Ukraine is a war-torn country, we wanted to make sure that they had options. They were offered options to come to Canada. Some of them have decided to come. Some of them have decided to stay,” said Joly, who praised the contributions of the local Ukrainian staff members. “They were also given full payment and compensation and benefits, although for some time the diplomats were outside of the country.” Joly said a review process called the “Future of Diplomacy” has already been launched to study the issues surrounding the duty of care for local employees in time of crises. The alleged abandonment of the Ukrainian local staff has called into question how Canada applies its duty of care to local staff at diplomatic missions abroad. In Afghanistan, for instance, Ottawa introduced a special immigration program for current and former Afghan employees and contractors, as well as their families, in anticipation of the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban last year. Experts on consular services say evacuations of locally engaged staff are inconsistently applied based on the quality of risk assessments. Local employees are crucial to consular operations, especially in a crisis. “There is no straight line in diplomacy and there is no straight line in security,” said Ferry de Kerckhove, a career Canadian diplomat who was ambassador in Indonesia during the 2002 Bali terrorist bombings and in Egypt between 2008 and 2011 during the Arab Spring movement. De Kerckhove, who spent 38 years in foreign service, said whether to evacuate local staff or not is decided by the ambassador in consultation with Ottawa. The assessment is complex and involves Global Affairs Canada, the immigration department and other ministries. Although he is not privy to the intelligence or circumstances on the ground in Kyiv, he said, generally, unless there’s a really dire situation, the government would need those staff on the ground. “I would assume that if there was a situation in Kyiv that would become really worrisome, we would probably consider bringing in the staff the same way we bring refugees in,” said de Kerckhove, now a senior fellow in public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa. “I don’t think there is a prima facie case of saying yes or no. It would be on a case-by-case basis.” Any evacuation involving Canadian and domestic staff is taken seriously because it’s an onerous and time-sensitve process and officials are often hesitant to let go of the essential staff. He said there are also concerns by officials over “opening the floodgate” in terms of eligibility and access. “The consistency comes from the quality of the analysis of the assessment of the given situation. It’s the situation at any given time that determines the quality of the assessment,” said de Kerckhove. “So any consular manual rule would allow enough leeway to be able to make an assessment based on changing circumstances.” Earlier this year, the Senate committee on foreign affairs and international trade initiated a review of the Canadian foreign service. In May, Joly announced the review to modernize the department and adapt to the changing geopolitical environment. Global Affairs Canada officials said discussions over the duty-of-care issue have been part of that review. Patricia Fortier, an expert on consular services with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said the inclusion of the issue in the review is timely. “There is a need for people to understand the balance that’s needed. And if this results in a more balanced approach to duty of care, this will really be helpful,” said the retired Canadian diplomat, who was most recently assistant deputy minister for security, consular and emergency management in Global Affairs Canada. “Right now, the problem of taking duty of care to its logical end is you end up (being) totally risk-averse. Diplomacy requires always a certain amount of risk. You can’t keep everybody under lock and key and not go places that are risky.” Fortier said actions required in response to a crisis are never straightforward and there are no cookie-cutter solutions. While the United States, Canada and Britain withdrew their embassy staff in Kyiv in the buildup of the Russian war, other allies opted to stay. “I’m not sure what kind of thinking went into the decisions, but what I want to address is intelligence. Anybody within the foreign service for any length of time can get a lot of stuff across their desk. And all intelligence needs to be assessed,” said Fortier. “Sometimes it’s right. A lot of times it’s not right. Nothing happens. So one of the questions I have is, how serious was this?” Carleton University international affairs professor David Carment said there’s no indication that Kyiv is going to be under any form of attack except for missile strikes, which target assets such as arms shipments that the Russians deem important to the Ukrainian war effort. If the locally engaged staff have been engaged in work and activities related to the war effort such as collecting intelligence, which would certainly put their lives at risk, a strong argument could then be made for their evacuation to Canada, he said. “We don’t know the details on that. But to automatically assume that the Russians are going to capture them and torture them just because they happen to be on the Canadian side is problematic,” noted Carment, a senior fellow with the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy, a non-partisan think tank based in Toronto. The issue is beyond just securing the safety of individual foreign service officers, but ensuring Canada has a credible presence in countries that are risky, he said. “One of the questions that needs to be considered is whether this duty-of-care approach is an effort to convince Canadians who might want to be foreign service officers to serve abroad where they’re more likely to be at risk,” said Carment. “So it is a bigger argument. It’s one that has to be placed in the context of having a strong diplomatic presence.” Source: What duty of care does Canada have? Joly denies abandoning Ukrainian embassy staff

Momani: Biden’s futile trip to Saudi Arabia

Of note. Pivoting to address new circumstances has consequences:

American President Joe Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia this past weekend was bad theatre. At best it gave the impression of him addressing American consumers’ woes and at worst reaffirmed every skeptic’s view of hypocritical U.S. foreign policy. Make no mistake – this trip would not have happened were it not for Mr. Biden’s dwindling approval ratings at home, attributed in part to rising inflation and growing fears of a recession. Both economic woes are tied to high energy costs caused by Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Biden administration officials provided a laundry list of reasons for the President’s trip, from the long-time favourite of “promoting peace in the Middle East” to getting the Saudis to increase oil production to ease prices on American consumers. But geopolitical and oil market experts had rightly assessed that nothing substantive would come from this trip when it came to either issue. Despite Israeli-Saudi commercial, defence and intelligence ties being at an all-time high, the frail and elderly King Salman was not expected to sign a formal peace treaty with the Israelis. He will instead leave this to his son, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), to ink when he becomes king.

On oil, Saudi Arabia is already pumping crude at record levels and has very little spare capacity for export. Saudi Arabia’s scorching summer heat also means it has high energy needs of its own to power its air conditioners. Hence while Saudi officials paid lip service to providing the world with a stable supply of crude oil, few expected any substantive change to its output levels. Unsurprisingly, oil prices have not decreased since Biden’s Saudi trip.

Yet, this trip’s futility highlights a recurrent issue in U.S. foreign policy. It was only a few short years ago that Mr. Biden, then on the presidential campaign trail, said he would make Saudi Arabia “a pariah” for its involvement in the brutal murder of Washington Post journalist and Saudi democracy activist, Jamal Khashoggi. There has been little change in U.S. foreign policy toward Saudi Arabia during Biden’s time as President, but at minimum the soon-to-be ruler of the oil-rich kingdom was seen as persona non grata in international forums. At G20 meetings, most Western leaders went to great lengths to avoid being pictured with the ostracized monarch.

Of course, leaders of China and Russia have been quite happy to be seen with MBS. They have continued to make lucrative deals with the world’s largest oil exporter and weapons importer. For much of the world, business and realpolitik sadly eclipses any notion of a human rights-based foreign policy. While many may have scoffed at Donald Trump’s transactional foreign policy during his time in the presidential office, it can at least be said that he was transparent about courting Saudi Arabia for its money alone. He boasted at having encouraged them to buy more U.S. arms and to allow further American investment in the Kingdom.

Mr. Biden claimed U.S. foreign policy would change from the Trump era. Yet there was Mr. Biden this weekend giving MBS a fist-bump and proceeding to sit across the table from the man who, for ordering the dismemberment of Mr. Khashoggi’s body, was dubbed Mr. Bone Saw. Saudi media reported that MBS used the meeting with Biden to point out the U.S.’s own human rights failures, from the 2004 Abu Ghraib prison abuses when the U.S. occupied Iraq to the most recent whitewashing of the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

There are consequences to this U.S. hypocrisy. When the West asked for support in condemning Russia for its brutal war and occupation of Ukraine, it was no wonder that so many long-time U.S. allies declined to support a UN resolution condemning Russia. Across the world, states have rebuffed the U.S. and the West, instead choosing to continue to do business with Vladimir Putin’s regime despite the horrors it inflicts on Ukraine. They have rejected the West’s normative framing of the war on Ukraine as one of Western values of democracy versus autocracy.

After all, it only took Mr. Biden two years for an about-face on an autocratic Saudi Arabia. How long will it be before the West capitulates and imports Russian oil and grain, or calls the occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea and the Donbas “facts on the ground.” The consequences of Mr. Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia is an affirmation of what has long been skeptics’ view of U.S. foreign policy: self-serving and hypocritical.

Bessma Momani is professor in the department of political science at the University of Waterloo and senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation.

Source: Biden’s futile trip to Saudi Arabia

Confucius Institutes reappear under new names – Report

Not that surprising, unfortunately:

Chinese government-funded language and culture centres known as Confucius Institutes have rapidly closed down across the United States over the past four years amid pressure from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the US Department of State, the US Congress, and state legislatures, concerned about China’s influence on universities. 

Of 118 Confucius Institutes that existed in the US, 104 closed by the end of 2021 or are in the process of doing so. 

Many institutions were forced to refund money to the Chinese government – sometimes in excess of US$1 million – according to a new wide-ranging report on Confucius Institutes (CIs) in the US by the National Association of Scholars, which was among the first to call for the closure of all Confucius Institutes on US campusesbefore the US Senate in 2019 called for greater transparency or closure.

However, “many once-defunct Confucius Institutes have since reappeared in other forms”, according to the association’s just-released reportAfter Confucius Institutes: China’s enduring influence on American higher education. It adds: “The single most popular reason institutions give when they close a CI is to replace it with a new Chinese partnership programme.”

US institutions “have entered new sister university agreements with Chinese universities, established ‘new’ centres closely modelled on defunct Confucius Institutes, and even continued to receive funding from the same Chinese government agencies that funded the Confucius Institutes,” it said. 

“In no cases (out of the 104 institutions) are we sufficiently confident to classify any university as having fully closed its Confucius Institute.” 

Rebranding and replacing

“Overall, we find that the Chinese government has carefully courted American colleges and universities, seeking to persuade them to keep their Confucius Institutes or, failing that, to reopen similar programmes under other names,” the report said.

American colleges and universities, too, appear eager to replace their Confucius Institutes with other forms of engagement with China, “frequently in ways that mimic the major problems with Confucius Institutes,” the report said. “Among its most successful tactics has been the effort to rebrand Confucius Institute-like programmes under other names.”

Some 28 institutions have replaced (and 12 have sought to replace) their closed Confucius Institute with a similar programme. Around 58 have maintained (and five may have maintained) close relationships with their former CI partner. About five have (and three may have) transferred their Confucius Institute to a new host, “thereby keeping the CI alive”.

Hanban, the Chinese government agency that launched Confucius Institutes, renamed itself the Ministry of Education Center for Language Education and Cooperation (CLEC) and spun off a separate organisation, the Chinese International Education Foundation (CIEF), that now funds and oversees Confucius Institutes and many of their replacements as part of a rebranding exercise in July 2020, designed to counter negative perceptions about CIs abroad. 

“In reality, the line between the Chinese government and its offshoot organisations is paper-thin. CIEF is under the supervision of the Chinese Ministry of Education and is funded by the Chinese government,” the report noted. 

Many CI staff migrated to CI-replacement programmes at the same university, according to the report which scrutinised a large number of contracts between CIs and US universities. It added that some CI textbooks and materials remain on the campuses of institutions that closed CIs.

The Chinese government has reacted by defending Confucius Institutes outright, but the report notes it has also “relied on the art of subterfuge, rebranding Confucius Institutes under different names and massaging their outlines to be less obvious to the public, and better camouflaged within the university”.

Three types of action were identified in the report: replacing the CI, maintaining a partnership in some way with the CI, or transferring the CI to a new home. 

Replacing the CI

Many universities are eager to ditch the now-toxic name ‘Confucius Institute’ but retain funding and close relationships with Chinese institutions, the report noted. 

“At least 28 universities replaced their Confucius Institute with a similar programme, and another 12 may have done so. Sometimes these replacement programmes are so closely modelled on CIs that we are tempted to call them renamed Confucius Institutes.”

Replacing the CI means the US institution “retained, on its own campus and as part of its own programming, substantial pieces of its Confucius Institute under a different name. This includes institutions that formed new replacement programmes with the Chinese university that had partnered in the Confucius Institute,” the report said. 

It also includes institutions that formed new China-focused centres that took on Confucius Institute staff, Confucius Institute programmes, or funding from the CLEC or CIEF, the successors to Hanban.

For example, the University of Michigan, among others, sought to retain Hanban funding even after the closure of the Confucius Institute. Federal disclosures cited by the report show the university received more than US$300,000 from Hanban in May and June 2019, just as the Confucius Institute was closing in June 2019, though the report notes these disclosures have since been deleted from the Department of Education’s website.

Maintaining a partnership

While some Chinese partners reacted with shock at the notification to close the CI, and even threatened to sever all other connection between them and the US university host, setting up a new partnership with a Chinese institution is the single most frequently cited reason given by US institutions for closing a Confucius Institute, the report found.

Forty of 104 institutions (38%) say they are replacing the Confucius Institute with a new partnership, often one that is quite similar to the Confucius Institute. “Many others do in practice arrange for alternative engagement with China, even if they do not say this in the same statement in which they announce the closure of the Confucius Institute,” the report said. 

The Chinese government often encouraged US universities, when they applied for a Confucius Institute, to first establish a sister university relationship with a Chinese university. For example, Arizona State University (ASU) became sister universities with Sichuan University, “having been led to believe that doing so would aid its bid to host a CI,” the report noted, adding that ASU did in fact establish a CI with Sichuan University, and the sister university relationship has survived the CI closure.

Upon closing a Confucius Institute, some US universities developed new partnerships with their Chinese partner universities, or maintained pre-existing partnerships outside the CI. Others transferred the CI to another institution, ensuring that the Confucius Institute did not really close but changed locations. Some universities engaged in several of these strategies at once.

The report tracked information for 75 of the 104 CIs that closed in the US. Of the 75, 28 replaced the CI with a similar programme, and another 12 sought to replace it, while 58 maintained relationships with their Chinese partner universities.

Many created something substantially similar to a Confucius Institute under a different name, as did Georgia State University, the College of William and Mary, Michigan State University and Northern State University.

The College of William and Mary replaced its CI with the W&M-BNU Collaborative Partnership in partnership with Beijing Normal University, its former CI partner. One day after the CI closed on 30 June 2021, the two universities signed a new ‘sister university’ agreement establishing the programme. 

Chinese universities have also proposed programmes similar to Confucius Institutes but funded by the Chinese university itself. For example, Jinlin Li, president of South-Central University for Nationalities (SCUN), wrote to University of Wisconsin-Platteville Chancellor Dennis J Shields, suggesting that “we work together on a university level to continue to offer Chinese language credit courses and Chinese Kungfu programmes”. He added that “SCUN will gladly continue funding this operation”. 

Replacing with another university programme

On being informed of CI closures, responses from Hanban “were initially characterised by shock and indignation, then by mere regret, and finally by well-coordinated efforts to woo colleges and universities into new partnerships”, the report said. 

Richard Benson, president of the University of Texas at Dallas, wrote in a letter cited by the report: “We will be arranging a new bilateral agreement with Southeast University to continue our mutually beneficial engagements.”

Benson went on to describe the “newly created UT Dallas Centre for Chinese Studies” which would house many of the programmes the Confucius Institute once ran – the former director of the Confucius Institute heads this new centre. 

Twenty-three universities said they would replace the Confucius Institute with their own, in-house programmes. However, 13 of these also said the CI would be replaced by a new partnership with a Chinese entity.

Ten of the 23 institutions announced plans to develop their own replacement programmes. Yet, at least four – University of Idaho, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, University of Montana and Purdue University – did in fact operate these programmes in partnership with their former CI partner. 

Six universities–- Pfeiffer University, San Diego State University, the University of Maryland, the University of Arizona, the University of Washington and Western Kentucky University – said they intended to find a new home for the CI by transferring it elsewhere.

Reasons for winding down CIs

Most of the criticisms surrounding Confucius Institutes involve threats to national security, infringements of academic freedom, and the problem of censorship. But these are rarely the reasons colleges and universities give when they announce plans to close a Confucius Institute. The report found the most frequently cited reasons are the development of alternative partnerships with China, and changes in US public policy.

Only five of 104 institutions cited concerns regarding the Chinese government’s relationship to Confucius Institutes ¬– and two of these five proclaimed that all national alarm was due to the mismanagement of Confucius Institutes by other universities.

Citing letters that the institutions sent to the Chinese government or their Chinese partner university; letters sent to a US government body, internal announcements to the staff, faculty and campus community; and statements published on the institutions’ own websites or published by the media, the report found that replacing the Confucius Institute with a new Chinese partnership was the most popular reason given for closure, while the second most popular was US policy. Many gave no reason whatsoever. 

Of the 33 colleges and universities that cite public policy as a reason for the Confucius Institute’s closure, 19 cite the potential loss of federal funds, and 11 specifically cite the National Defense Authorization Act, which barred certain grants from the Department of Defense to colleges and universities with Confucius Institutes. Three universities cited warnings they received from the US State Department. 

Despite widespread public concern about the Chinese government’s ulterior motives for supporting Confucius Institutes, only five universities referenced these concerns. Two laid out possible problems with Chinese government interference but concluded this had not been the case at their university.

University of Wisconsin-Platteville Chancellor Dennis J Shields in a letter to CLEC and CIEF said: “Over the past two years, the United States of America and its Department of State have raised serious concerns as to the scope of the People’s Republic of China and Beijing’s influence over higher education institutions, both nationally and globally…

“Unfortunately, due to these recent and continued concerns raised by the United States federal government and public officials as well as the recently enacted legislation, I have reached the difficult decision to end the UW-Platteville Confucius Institute.” 

Shields stressed though, that the University of Wisconsin had good experiences with Hanban.

Seven institutions said the Confucius Institute attracted too few students and others cited scarcity of funds as reasons for closure.

Source: Confucius Institutes reappear under new names – Report

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