Daphne Bramham: China’s long reach laid bare by Hong Kong protests

Expect we will continue to see many articles like this:

Beijing’s long reach into the Chinese diaspora and beyond has rarely been as evident as it is now.

On Monday, Twitter suspended 936 accounts, which it described as “the most active” of 200,000 accounts representing “a larger, spammy network.” The accounts originating in China were “deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground.”

Based on “intensive investigations, Twitter said it has “reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation. Specifically, we identified large clusters of accounts behaving in a coordinated manner to amplify messages related to the Hong Kong protests.”

Based on Twitter’s findings, Facebook also shut down seven pages, three groups and seven accounts.

Fortunately, this weekend’s march by an estimated 1.7 million Hong Kongers was peaceful after several weeks of violence and alleged police brutality.

But there were rising tensions in several Canadian cities as well as Paris, London, New York City and Sydney where pro-Beijing counter-protests were hastily arranged at sites of rallies held in support of Hong Kong’s protest movement.

The counter-protests were strikingly similar with denunciations of the Hong Kong “rioters” and “traitors” and false accusations of Hong Kongers demanding independence from China. They sang the Chinese national anthem under seemingly fresh-from-the-package Chinese flags and scores of identical placards.

With their own citizens protesting in the streets — many of them of Chinese ancestry — Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Crystia Freeland and the European Union’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini were told to mind their own business by China. They had issued a joint statement urging restraint and condemning the “rising number of unacceptable violent incidents” in Hong Kong that might lead to “risks of further violence and instability.”

In Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto, police were busy keeping protesters and counter-protesters separated and safe.

On Saturday, social media chatter among Vancouver-based China’s supporters included boasts about bringing bricks, rocks and knives to hastily organized counter-protests that resulted in a more obvious police presence than at previous events. Whether the threats were legitimate, it’s up to the police to investigate.

Later, scores of counter-protesters gathered outside Nordstrom’s, video posted on Facebook shows one young man marching past the red flags with his arm raised in a pseudo-Nazi salute with Chinese singing in the background. The show of forced convinced the organizers of a nearby pro-Hong Kong event to cancel.

On Sunday, a convoy of flag-draped cars and some landscaping trucks that had blocked the street outside the Chinese consul general’s house on Granville Street during a rally drove to a nearby church.

There, about 80 worshippers met to pray for peace, freedom, human rights and democracy in the former British colony. Police kept the 100 or so flag-waving and red-clad demonstrators away from the church and helped escort the worshippers though the crowd when the prayers ended.

Chris Chiu, one of the prayer meeting’s organizers, called it an assault on religious freedom, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression — something protected in Canada, but absent in China.

“We definitely felt intimidated,” he said. “As far as I know this doesn’t even happen in Hong Kong. Some churches there have opened their space during protests so that people can have a rest, get first aid or some water. They’re like shelters.

“It was definitely outrageous and shocking. It makes me feel very angry and unsafe even in Canada.”

Chiu said members of Vancouver Christians for Love, Peace and Justice will be meeting later this week to talk about their future.

“Are we going to hold any prayer meeting for Hong Kong or any other causes that China doesn’t like? Do we have to think about safety? About contacting police or hiring security guards? We don’t know the answers.”

Bizarrely, there were also by noisy drive-bys of flag-draped luxury cars at protests sites in Vancouver and Toronto.

Ferraris, McLarens, Aston Martins and Porsches revved their engines and honking is intimidation on a whole different scale in cities that have been roiled by a different kind of social unrest from residents who have been priced out of the housing market and who have been rocked by a multi-billion-dollar, money-laundering scandal that’s been linked to China.

The revving of cars that cost more than many people’s homes was another ostentatious reminder of China’s economic power.

Canada and Canadians are already suffering the economic consequences of China’s retribution for cleaving to our own values and upholding the rule of law with regard to Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

She’s under house arrest in her multi-million Vancouver home, awaiting an extradition trial, while two Canadians — Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig — have been jailed without trial in China and two others jailed in China have been condemned to death.

People in Hong Kong are in a life-and-death struggle to retain the vestiges of freedom that have made the city-state so vibrant. They are struggling to retain their own culture and customs and even the Cantonese language, which is increasingly being replaced by Mandarin.

As the Chinese government exerts ever increasing influence over other countries in Asia, Africa and in Canada, Hong Kongers are not alone in thinking that they may just be the canary in the coal mine.

Source: Daphne Bramham: China’s long reach laid bare by Hong Kong protests

Gurski: Why Canada should not be in a hurry to re-embrace Saudi Arabia

Good piece by Gurski:

I never worked in foreign affairs or for Foreign Affairs (or Global Affairs Canada, as it is now known, having once been designated External Affairs and many other names), but I know a little about the subject. After all, you cannot work in intelligence for three decades without picking up a thing or two on how nations manage their relations with other states.

I do know that at times a country has to hold its nose when engaging with a foreign partner whose actions are seen as, at a minimum, distasteful or, at a maximum, grotesque. In this light, I cannot imagine how the current crew at the Lester B. Pearson Building in Ottawa are handling Canada-U.S. ties, given the present occupant of the White House.

There are also those who maintain that some level of relationship is better than none. A complete cut in ties removes any form of influence or dialogue, although there are other fora (the UN for example) where national representatives can grab a coffee and chitchat about all things statecraft.

On the other hand, there are times and circumstances where a government has little choice but to close doors. Sometimes a state will engage in activities that are truly heinous and no country should allow such to go unpunished.

Saudi Arabia is now in that club. Canada has chosen, at least under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to criticize the kingdom over a variety of incidents; ranging from its treatment of women activists, to its disastrous war in Yemen, which is directly causing a massive humanitarian crisis. The event that overshadows everything, however, is last year’s murder and dismemberment of a Saudi dissident, Jamal Kashoggi, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Everyone knows that he was killed on orders from the very top of the Saudi royal family, their incredulous denials, notwithstanding. In return, the Saudis have suspended relations, booted our ambassador in Riyadh out and recalled their own man from Ottawa. There has not been a lot of movement on this file in some time although Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and her Saudi counterpart have been “discussing ideas to de-escalate.”

Into this mix comes the Conservative Party, whose foreign affairs critic, Conservative MP Erin O’Toole, has said that a government led by Andrew Scheer will try to “win some trust” with the Saudis by focusing on improving business links. O’Toole acknowledges that for some Canadians re-establishing ties with Saudi Arabia will be a “tough sell.”

Ya think?

I fail to see why so many states are still fawning over Saudi Arabia, and especially over the king-in-waiting and international star Muhammad bin Salman (or MBS as he is called: some say the acronym stands for “Mister Bone Saw,” a reference to how Kashoggi was cut up). Yes, yes, it is all about oil and MBS’ plans to modernize his nation and the need to have a stalwart ally against the real menace: Iran.

Except that the crown prince’s words are probably just that: words. Saudi Arabia remains a heavily conservative Wahhabi Muslim state that has exported its hateful strain of Islam worldwide for decades and crushes any internal dissent forcefully. True, there has been some crackdown on the more egregious religious hate-mongers, but this leopard is highly unlikely to change its spots any time soon.

I find it hard to believe that many governments, including the U.S., have been giving the kingdom a pass in the post 9/11 period. Recall that 15 of the 19 hijackers that fateful day on Sept. 11, 2001, were Saudis, bred on Saudi Wahhabi Islam. And for all the noises about a mellowing of Islam in the desert kingdom, there is ample evidence that Saudi-trained imams are continuing to spread Wahhabi poison around the world. And this is what an ally does?

I realize that money trumps values a lot of the time. In this regard, there is a lot of money to be made by having a robust relationship with Saudi Arabia, particularly in the defence sector. But what is more important: trade or the values Canada stands for?

So O’Toole, if your party indeed gains power in October, have a re-think over going cap in hand to the Saudis. We really don’t need them. Their actions are antithetical to who we are. I’d like to suggest that you be a little more Canadian yourself and ditch this idea.

Source: Why Canada should not be in a hurry to re-embrace Saudi Arabia

Egyptian minister’s laughing vow in Canada to ‘slice up’ anyone who criticizes her country alarms immigrant groups

Even if the expression was made only in jest, unacceptable:

Egyptian-Canadians are incensed over an Egyptian cabinet minister’s promise to “slice up” critics of her country, saying what might have been meant as a joke struck them as a serious threat from a repressive regime.

Those of both Coptic-Christian and Muslim backgrounds — who rarely see eye to eye otherwise — condemned Wednesday the comments made by Immigration Minister Nabila Makram on a visit to Mississauga, Ont.

They cite Cairo’s record of arbitrary detentions, violence against political opponents and other human-rights abuses since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi seized power six years ago.

Some have complained to police, and the Peel Regional force in Mississauga says it is investigating the matter.

“No one in his or her right mind should take this — although it might be said in a joking manner — as a joke,” said Ehab Lotayef of the Egyptian Canadian Coalition for Democracy. “It really represents the mindset of the current Egyptian government and is totally unacceptable by a minister in a country that respects itself.”

Lotayef urged Global Affairs Canada to make its displeasure known for what he said was at least a diplomatic affront.

Makram was near the end of a short speech to an Egyptian heritage dinner Sunday when she said in Arabic that anyone who criticized Egypt would be “sliced up,” accompanying the remark with a slashing motion across her throat.

She said it with a smile, after talking about Egyptians’ passion for their country, and earned laughter and applause from the audience.

But Egyptian ex-patriates cite evidence that critics of the Sisi government in Canada are already under watch, and note that a visiting Egyptian-Canadian businessman has been imprisoned in Cairo without charge for months.

Canadian-based “dissidents” have been mentioned in government-aligned Egyptian media in negative terms, said Lotayef.

“We are surely being followed and monitored,” he said.

Egypt’s ambassador to Canada routinely makes the trip from Ottawa to attend major events at Mississauga’s main Coptic-Christian church, said Maher Rizkalla, president of Canadian Coptic Association.

“The Egyptian government is always involved and keeps an eye on the churches in Canada,” he said. “I would be concerned to visit Egypt. I know they’re watching us, and they know who is active and inactive outside the country.”

Sisi’s government has been widely criticized for its abuses, with Human Rights Watch writing that “his security forces have escalated a campaign of intimidation, violence, and arrests against political opponents, civil society activists and many others who have simply voiced mild criticism of the government.”

Makram is on a Canadian tour organized in part by the Egyptian embassy.

“Our country is very grand and deserves that all of us work for it and fight for it, because we just have one county – Egypt,” she told the dinner audience. “This country is always inside us, inside our hearts. We cannot accept any word about it. Anyone who says a (bad) word about our country – what will happen to him? Will be sliced up.”

Not everyone interpreted the remarks in a completely negative fashion.

One audience member, who asked not to be named for fear of landing in the midst of a political fight, said the slicing-up expression is a common and usually genial one in Egyptian Arabic, not meant literally.

“Parents say that to their kids all the time,” the person said. “Usually … people say it as an endearing gesture.”

Still, the audience member said the comment was definitely inappropriate in the circumstances.

The Egyptian embassy in Ottawa did not respond to a request for comment.

In response to a complaint from Rizkalla, Peel Regional Police are investigating the matter, and liaising with the department’s “equity and inclusion bureau,” said Const. Lori Murphy, a spokeswoman.

Tung Chan: Dialogue with Chinese consul at reception can promote Canada’s case

Valid argument. The test, however, will be how many municipal politicians will raise their concerns and how forcefully or not they do so. And dialogue requires a willingness on the Chinese side, not very much in evidence these days:

I read with amazement about the debate over whether municipal politicians should attend the reception to be hosted by the Consulate of the People’s Republic of China at the 2019 Union of B.C. Municipalities Convention, to be held Sept. 23-27 at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

The central arguments against attending can be summed up in two points.

The first is that as a result of China acting in a hostile way toward our country, we should not have any contacts with its officials. The second is that if our politicians attend the reception, they will end up under the influence of the Chinese officials.

There is no doubt that China is acting in a heavy-handed way toward Canada. But this is precisely the time that more dialogue between our two countries is needed. Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tried to talk to Chinese President Xi Jinping at the recent G20 meeting in Japan. The reception at the upcoming UBCM will give our municipal politicians the opportunity to talk to Chinese officials.   

As to the second point about being afraid that our municipal politicians would be influenced, as a former Vancouver city councillor and former president of the Non-Partisan Association, I have full confidence that our elected mayors and councillors would not be so easily influenced by a cocktail or two. To suggest otherwise is an insult to their intelligence and integrity.

If we truly believe that our politicians can so easily become “under the general influence” of the cocktail host and then “all of a sudden, decisions aren’t taken on the basis of the public good, but on the basis of” the preoccupations of the cocktail party’s host (to paraphrase a statement by Richard Fadden, former head of CSIS), then we should, on principle, also ban commercial sponsorship at all gatherings of our politicians. Otherwise they will all be making decisions on the basis of those commercial enterprises and not on the basis of the public good. 

The fact is influence can go both ways. Why is it that those who suggest boycotting the reception have so little confidence in themselves or other politicians who want to participate of their own power of influence?  Why won’t they consider using the interaction to impress, to the extent possible, to the hosts of the reception in question that Canada is acting the way we are because we are a country that believes in the rule of law?

The points of view of the Chinese consular officials may not be changed but at least there would be constructive dialogue and our local politicians would reinforce the message of our prime minister and the foreign affairs minister. 

I believe, with the best interest of our country in heart, we need to open up more channels of dialogue between Canada and China.

Common sense tells us that problems can only be solved through dialogue, not through avoiding contact. It is time for our local politicians to join in the effort to tell China via the Chinese consuls face-to-face the feelings of the people they represent about the actions of the Chinese government. Our local politicians cannot leave that job to our prime minister and the minister of foreign affairs alone.

Tung Chan is a former Vancouver city councillor and former president of the Non-Partisan Association.

Source: Tung Chan: Dialogue with Chinese consul at reception can promote Canada’s case

John Ivison: Prioritizing romanticism over realism: Where Trudeau went wrong in Canada’s foreign policy – Anonymous former diplomats

While I agree with many of the criticisms (e.g., oversized role of diaspora politics), some less so (e.g., overly focussed on the US, the main Canadian national interest), a good survey of former ambassador assessments.

But what I find hard to understand is why former ambassadors refuse to make these statements on the record, hiding behind anonymity.

Being retired gives one the freedom to express one’s opinions publicly. There are good examples: Paul Heinbecker, David Mulroney, Dennis Horak, Ferry de Kerckhove and Mike Malloy have all played, and continue to play, an important role in public discussion on foreign policy.

Making anonymous comments, whether on social media or in interviews, has less impact and, I would argue, less credibility.

So to my former colleagues at DFAIT/GAC, if you have something to say, say it but with the personal and professional accountability that comes with being named.

Welcome any contrary opinions, of course:

Rhetoric is no substitute for reality, as the American social theorist Thomas Sowell said. It is the besetting sin of the Trudeau government that it has not lived up to its promises in so many fields of endeavour.

In foreign affairs, this week gave us another reminder of the gap between what Justin Trudeau said he would do — a “new era of Canadian international engagement” — and the state of affairs in the real world.

The Hindustan Times reported that India has informed Canada that there is little prospect of warming the frosty bilateral relationship unless Ottawa takes action on the burgeoning activities of groups seeking an independent Sikh homeland in the Punjab region.

The relationship with India has cooled since Trudeau’s disastrous visit last year, largely because the Indians believe the Liberal government is taking a position that is deliberately ambiguous for domestic political reasons (the Sikh population being a particularly coveted voting bloc at the next election).

The problem is not specifically Trudeau’s lack of credibility with Narendra Modi’s government, though India is an important Commonwealth partner.

The larger issue is that it is just one example of Canada’s continuing evisceration of its foreign service, its subjugation of relations with regional powers to domestic politics and of the millenarian belief that Canada should be regarded as a moral superpower.

Policy has been diaspora-driven in the case of the Sikhs, Tamils and Ukrainians. “We are trying to win votes in Surrey, B.C. That’s not adult. It’s not G7 behaviour,” said one former ambassador.

Another senior diplomat, with two decades of experience in Asia, said the Liberals seems to believe that foreign governments will buy their progressive talking points just as its political base does.

“I spent decades working with these highly educated and sophisticated people and I would be embarrassed to be defending current policies. We have never before had strained relations with all three of the world’s strongest powers,” he said.

The Post spoke with a handful of former senior diplomats, all of whom lamented the current state of Canada’s foreign relations.

They talked about a missed opportunity after the Harper years, when the Conservative government turned away from multilateralism and refused to “go along just to get along.” Trudeau tried to rebrand Canada as a more sympathetic, co-operative country, and said he wanted to share a “positive Canadian vision.”

When he visited the renamed Global Affairs Department in Ottawa’s Lester B. Pearson building he was greeted like a rock star by staff who were open in their jubilation at the demise of the Conservative government.

“Harper made no secret of his open disdain for the bureaucracy, which he thought was staffed by a bunch of Liberals,” said one former ambassador. “That wasn’t true — people had served previous Conservative governments loyally.”

There were high hopes that Trudeau would revive the foreign service but by all accounts, that has not happened.

“For a government that evinced such appreciation of bureaucrats at the beginning — which was embarrassingly reciprocated — Trudeau’s government has shown little appreciation for the actual institution of Canada foreign policy. Was this because the institution didn’t deliver, after the years of Harper starvation; because the Harper model was there and was so easy to fall back on; because of the press of crises; or because of personality?” asked another former ambassador.

The answer is probably a combination of the above. But what can be said with confidence is that allowing the foreign service to atrophy further has had real world consequences.

Naiveté, myopia and bad advice contributed to the debacle in Beijing in late 2017, when Trudeau arrived in China expecting to launch talks on a free trade deal and left empty-handed. Old Foreign Affairs hands shake their heads at the expectation that China would change its labour laws to accommodate Canada’s progressive trade agenda, blaming former ambassador John McCallum (one of a number of political appointees in key embassies) for not warning the visiting prime minister. “The Liberal establishment is in bed with the Chinese and they were slow to see that Xi is different and the romantic vision of China is no longer true,” said a former ambassador.

The consensus on Trudeau’s trip to India is that foreign service advice was either ignored or overruled. The logic appears to have been that dressing up in flamboyant costumes for pictures that would appear in constituency mail-outs at election time should take precedence over fostering more harmonious relations with the world’s largest democracy.

On relations with the U.S., there is a sense that Trudeau has performed more adroitly. “I’m careful not to carp about the swimming stroke of a guy caught in a white water cascade,” said one former ambassador, referring to the problem for any Canadian government dealing with Donald Trump.

The main criticism was that the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement has dominated the agenda, leaving little time for the rest of the world.

Chrystia Freeland, the global affairs minister, is given credit by foreign policy veterans for getting the free trade deal with the European Union across the finish line.

She is also commended for backing the Lima Group, a collection of 12 countries intent on creating a peaceful solution to the crisis in Venezuela. “It’s one of the best initiatives to come out of this government,” said a former ambassador with experience in Latin America. “It’s flexible, not the usual suspects and pragmatic.”

But Freeland and Trudeau are given more failing marks than passes for prioritizing romanticism over realism in Canada’s foreign policy.

The Trudeau government’s idealistic crusade to promote democracy and reduce inequities has blinded it to the realpolitik that puts national interest ahead of all other considerations.

An example would be the tweet by Freeland calling for the release of two women’s rights activists, including Samar Badawi, sister of imprisoned writer Raif Badawi, which provoked an angry response from the peevish Saudi Arabian crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. The prince called the intervention “blatant interference in the Kingdom’s domestic affairs,” expelled the Canadian ambassador, froze bilateral trade, and dumped Canadian assets. For their part, the Trudeau Liberals were able to engage in their particular brand of pulpit diplomacy. But it came at a cost and Canada’s former Saudi envoy, Dennis Horak, was quoted as saying Freeland’s tweet was a “serious overreaction” and “went too far.”

One of the former ambassadors interviewed concurred. “If we confine relations to like-minded countries, we’ll have ever fewer relations,” he said.

Freeland could claim to being on the side of the angels when the Saudis murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi in their consulate in Turkey in October 2018. But Samar Badawi is still in detention and is less likely to be released after Canada’s involvement than she was before. The incident revealed that Canada is impotent when it comes to transforming the behaviour of other states, yet retains an unrealistic sense of utopianism that offers the mirage of power and influence.

Meanwhile, Canada’s foreign affairs department continues to disintegrate — quite literally. There has been no ambassador in Moscow for over a year and the roof of the embassy is falling in, such that staff are set to move into the basement and backrooms of the British embassy.

Canada promised to be “back” but the re-emergence on the multilateral stage has fizzled. On arms control, aid, peacekeeping and security, the Trudeau government has disappointed. The government took a long time to commit to a year-long engagement in Mali and the eight helicopters and 250 personnel are due to come home at the end of this month — nearly three months before their Romanian replacements are in theatre.

None of this bodes well for Canada’s attempt to win a seat on the UN Security Council next year, against strong opposition from Ireland and Norway.

Failure would bring uncomfortable comparisons with the prime minister’s father, who was in power when Canada held a non-permanent security council seat in 1977.

“Justin has a domestic focus to his foreign policy, compared to his father, who was a factor on the world stage,” said one eminent former ambassador, who spent 35 years working on four continents.

I asked him if he thought Trudeau, who travelled extensively with his father as a boy, was a student of geo-politics. “I don’t think so. When engaging with world leaders, he’s not talking about Middle East peace or Iran, I’d suggest he is engaging on issues like income inequality, women in leadership roles and the environment,” he said.

The consequence of these skewed priorities, according to my informal panel of ambassadors, is that in many areas of foreign policy, not only is Canada not back, it is positively AWOL.

Silence on Tiananmen anniversary could be sign of China’s influence on Canadian community groups: critics

Important to note the contrast. While I agree, of course, that photos with local consular officials are normal, the silence appears to reflect an emerging pattern of Chinese involvement in Canadian institutions, as some of the incidents in universities indicate:

Three decades ago, days after the Chinese government’s brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters at Tiananmen Square, Vancouver-based immigrant-services organization SUCCESS issued a joint statement with other community groups condemning the violence. It called on China to follow the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and engage in peaceful negotiation.

Recently, on the 30th anniversary of the massacre, the non-profit — which has a $50 million budget and become one of the largest social-service agencies in Canada, providing help with settlement, language training, employment, seniors care and housing — did nothing to mark the occasion.

Its silence did not go unnoticed.

Kenneth Tung, a former chair of SUCCESS and member of the Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement, said he would like to have seen the organization tap into its roots and put out a “simple” statement urging China to allow its citizens to enjoy the freedoms we enjoy in Canada.

“In the last few years, there’s been more (human rights) violations — going backwards,” he said. “I wish the board of SUCCESS sees that too.”

Some in the community wonder if the reluctance to speak out may, at least in part, be influenced by the region’s shifting demographics and insertion of Chinese government representatives in local affairs. More than 40 per cent of the organization’s 61,000 clients are from mainland China, as opposed to Hong Kong when SUCCESS was founded in the 1970s.

The organization opened a satellite office in Beijing a few years ago and its leaders are often photographed in the company of Chinese consular officials or members of community groups that are seen as friendly to Beijing. During the annual Chinese New Year parade this year, Queenie Choo, SUCCESS’s CEO, stood alongside Chinese consul-general Tong Xiaoling.

“It has been my observation that a lot of board members of SUCCESS may be reluctant to have the organization be involved in publicly controversial political issues, especially when it relates to China,” said Tommy Tao, a retired lawyer and activist who served on the SUCCESS board in the mid-1990s.

Tao added: “It is important to be aware and vigilant that the PRC (People’s Republic of China) consulate is very skilful exerting its influence — sometimes it’s not in the best interest of the local community and sometimes it’s not in the best interest of Canada.”

Choo told the National Post there’s no question more needs to be done to stand up for global democracy. But SUCCESS is not in the business of trying to antagonize other countries, she said. “We’re here to provide services and advocate for immigrants, new Canadians, seniors and affordable housing.” When it does take a stand on an issue, it is done in a “thoughtful” manner.

Just because she and other leaders at SUCCESS are seen in the company of certain people or groups doesn’t necessarily mean they endorse their views, she said. “Am I under undue influence of PRC? I don’t think so.”

At a time when countless stories about money laundering and skyrocketing real-estate prices have raised concerns about anti-Chinese sentiment, the National Post’s exploration of China’s so-called “soft-power” influence activities overseas similarly brought up fears of stoking xenophobia.

Peter Guo, another former SUCCESS board member, said the Post’s line of inquiry could end up demonizing one cultural group and perpetuate racial dog whistles.

“The subtext is very dangerous,” he said.

But China watchers say the Chinese government’s efforts to expand its foreign influence and suppress criticism, in part by cultivating relationships with community organizations serving the Chinese diaspora, is real and those organizations need to be vigilant.

“The Chinese Communist Party sees its overseas population of Chinese emigrants and foreign residents, generally reckoned to total about 50 million people, as an asset to be marshalled in the promotion of China’s political interests,” veteran Canadian journalist Jonathan Manthorpe wrote in his book Claws of the Panda: Beijing’s Campaign of Influence and Intimidation in Canada.

A report posted on the website of Canada’s spy agency, CSIS, in May 2018 stated that “[Chinese President] Xi Jinping has increased the reach of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) over the lives of citizens, and is targeting the Chinese diaspora as a means of increasing international influence.”

The report cited a paper released the year before by Anne-Marie Brady, a professor at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and global fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. She wrote that China’s foreign influence activities had accelerated under Xi Jinping and was being carried out by the Chinese government’s Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council and the CCP’s United Front Work Department.

The goal of successful overseas Chinese work, she wrote, is to get the overseas community to “proactively and even better, spontaneously, engage in activities which enhance China’s foreign policy agenda.”

Chinese consulates and embassies might relay instructions to Chinese community groups and the Chinese language media or bring in high-level CCP delegations to meet with them.

But the CCP prefers to be seen to be guiding the overseas Chinese community as opposed to leading them. “Overseas Chinese leaders who co-operate in this guidance are encouraged to see their participation as a form of service, serving the Chinese Motherland, the Chinese race, and the ethnic Chinese population within the countries where they live.”

How does this play out in real life? Some say: look to Australia.

In 2017, the Chinese Australian Services Society, a Sydney-based immigrant-service agency similar to SUCCESS, raised eyebrows when it released a foreign policy paper that said Australia should reconsider its “unquestioning strategic alignment with the U.S.” and “understand Australia is capable of many important and positive roles besides ‘America’s deputy sheriff.’”

It’s inevitable, the paper went on to say, that “every nation in the region needs to pursue an effective relationship with China for sustainable prosperity in the next couple of decades.”

After the media got wind of the policy paper, the society put out a statement rejecting the implication that it had fallen under China’s influence and said the paper was a summary of the views of its constituents. The statement went on to say that the organization had been transparent in its annual operations report about its dealings with the Chinese government.

However, China expert Nick Bisley told The Australian newspaper there was a “clear effort by forces in the PRC to shape opinion in Australia to promote a more positive view of the PRC and to distance Australia from the U.S.”

The Chinese Australian Services Society had received official designation a couple years earlier as an “Overseas Chinese Service Centre” by the Chinese government’s Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, according to the office’s website. Qiu Yuanping, the office’s director, announced in 2014 a goal of establishing 60 such centres around the world.

For the most part, it appears the Chinese government has chosen pre-existing immigrant-service organizations to designate in these roles, says Matt Schrader, a China expert based in Washington, D.C.

Doing so, he said, gives the “party-state visibility into what’s happening in overseas Chinese communities. Through that visibility, (it gives) them a way to monitor and — where they’re able and it’s appropriate — to control what’s happening in those communities in a way that serves their interests.”

In a column earlier this year, Schrader wrote that “the United Front’s cultivation of these organizations appears to have paid dividends, if judged by their leaders’ willingness to associate themselves with CCP political slogans.”

Schrader cited the establishment of the Hua Zhu Overseas Chinese Service Centre near Toronto in 2015. It shares the same address as The Cross-Cultural Community Services Association (TCCSA), an immigrant services agency that has been around since 1973.

“The Toronto center issued a Chinese New Year’s greeting this year on behalf of PRC Toronto consul-general He Wei that listed the CCP’s 19th Party Congress as one of the PRC’s greatest accomplishments of the past year, and echoed Xi Jinping’s declaration that ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era,’” he wrote.

Emily Fung, Hua Zhu’s board secretary, told the Post in an email that the centre posted the consul-general’s greeting on its website to accommodate clients who “wish to keep in touch with the Chinese community.”

“Hua Zhu does not have any political preference to anybody or countries,” she added.

Peter Chiu, acting executive director of the TCCSA, said his organization acts as a mentor to Hua Zhu, “assisting them to plan and deliver legal and apolitical social and recreational programs for the community,” but Hua Zhu is otherwise fully independent.

SUCCESS is another community organization that received an OCSC designation in 2015, according to a Chinese government website. Pictures show that in February 2014, Qiu Yuanping met with Choo and Liu Fei, China’s then-consul-general in Vancouver, for breakfast at the Shangri-La Hotel.

But Choo says SUCCESS was only ever a “token” recipient of the OCSC designation as she felt her organization couldn’t meet the expectations that came with it. “We needed to host a lot of functions when the government delegation comes,” she said.

In an email, the Chinese consulate in Vancouver did not specifically address its relationship with SUCCESS but did note that “Chinese expatriates and emigrants living overseas are an important bridge for local peoples to better understand China.”

In order to show the country’s care towards expatriates and to promote their economic and cultural ties with China, the Chinese government has “founded various organizations and offices to manage the affairs of expatriates,” the email said. It went on to praise the community organizations built by Chinese emigrants for “enriching the social power of Canada’s multicultural society.”

Top representatives of SUCCESS have attended many functions in the company of Tong, the current Chinese consul-general, and members of pro-Beijing organizations.

In February 2018, Tong met with the SUCCESS board. She and Choo then went to a seniors’ care home managed by SUCCESS to hand out red envelopes.

Tong and Choo crossed paths again that same month at a lunar new year event sponsored by the Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations, an umbrella organization of dozens of community groups and whose website lists among its activities meetings with the Chinese government’s Overseas Chinese Affairs Office.

Also that month, Tong and Terry Yung, chair of the SUCCESS board, donned red scarves at the 18th anniversary celebration of the Canada-Wenzhou Friendship Society, one of the organizations under the alliance. The society was accused later in the fall of vote-tampering after it sent out social media messages to members encouraging them to vote for certain ethnic-Chinese candidates during municipal elections and offering a $20 transportation allowance. Police later said they found no evidence of wrongdoing.

In March 2018, Tong attended the annual fundraising gala organized by the SUCCESS Foundation, the society’s fundraising arm. She was the only foreign dignitary mentioned in a foundation press release.

In May 2018, Yung, who is a police officer, formed part of an honour guard at the conference of the World Guangdong Community Federation in Vancouver that was attended by Tong, as well as Su Bo, a senior official with the United Front Work Department. B.C. Premier John Horgan and other dignitaries from all levels of government, also attended.

In November 2017, shortly after exiting his role as chair of the SUCCESS Foundation, Sing Lim Yeo joined Chinese consular officials and others at a hotel conference room to discuss ways to resolve the issue of the reunification of mainland China and Taiwan. A video wall in the background was emblazoned with the words: “Overseas Chinese leaders work to unite the motherland in the new era.”

Choo and Yung told the Post that the events cited are a fraction of the countless functions they attend each year, which include events sponsored by Taiwanese, Filipino, Jewish and other cultural groups.

“It’s almost equal opportunity,” Yung said. “I don’t seek out a political group to go and celebrate a cause.”

“As a non-partisan organization, I do not want to exclude anyone in photo opportunities. That does not mean I support or reject their positions/views,” Choo said.

She later added: “If such endeavours create a perception problem, we will be very mindful of (it) in the future.”

Sing Lim Yeo did not respond to a phone message. But Yung said the society can’t prevent ex-board members from expressing their opinions, as long as it’s not on behalf of the society.

Tung Chan, a former SUCCESS CEO, cautioned that it is difficult to ascribe motives to individuals based on the people they are pictured with.

“Those of us who understand the Chinese cultural concept of ‘face’ will know it is almost impossible to turn down an invitation without causing some damage to a relationship,” he said.

On the question of the organization’s silence on Tiananmen, Chan said he didn’t see how that was relevant to the society’s core mission of helping Canadians integrate in a nonpartisan manner.

But Eleanor Yuen, past president of the Vancouver Hong Kong Forum Society who would like to have seen the organization mark the anniversary, says there’s nothing partisan about promoting Canadian values.

“Historical facts remain historical facts and it should not be compromised or dressed up or dressed down as a matter of convenience.”

This is the resistance to China’s influence in Canada, and this is their moment

Of note given the apparent extent of Chinese government efforts to influence Canadians and Canadian governments:

Standing at the counter of a coffee shop in Vancouver’s Commercial-Broadway Skytrain station, underneath a little Canadian flag, the leaders of the resistance bicker over who gets the honour of paying for their drinks.

Louis Huang ends the standoff by shoving $5 into Gao Bingchen’s pocket and walking to their seats. They have bigger conflicts to discuss.

Huang and Gao, both originally from Mainland China, are the founders of the 60-member Alliance Guard of Canadian Values. Since 2009, they’ve been trying to get Canadian governments to “be aware, really aware about the influence of the Chinese communist government in Canada,” Huang said.

Gao doesn’t speak much English, so Huang does the talking. Gao sits quietly next to him, checking his phone and waiting for brief translations of what is being said.

Huang says the Canadian political class just doesn’t get it. Instead of pushing for human rights in China, it cozies up to Beijing hoping to boost business. Rather than address the Communist Party of China’s attempts to infiltrate Canadian institutions, Canadian politicians ignore the problem.

More frustrating, he said, members of Parliament haven’t seemed interested in hearing what they have to say about it.

But this could finally be their moment.

Since December, international relations have remained in the headlines as Beijing threatens Canada over the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver. She’s awaiting extradition proceedings to face fraud and other charges in the United States.

Observers say the aftermath, including the detention of two Canadians in China and new restrictions on Canadian canola exports, has opened Canadians’ eyes to the reality of dealing with a totalitarian regime. Huang and Gao hope the sudden high-profile spat will turn the pernicious problem into an election issue.

“We came from China because we don’t like the Communist Party. We want to live in a freedom-of-speech, freedom-of-human-rights country,” said Huang, a former medical doctor and researcher who now works as an education consultant.

Gao, a journalist, has a reputation for taking on powerful and connected people. He was found guilty of defamation for articles he wrote about Vancouver developer Miaofei Pan, alleging he wasn’t paying his taxes.

Pan is the former president of the Canada Wenzhou Friendship Society and worked with the Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations. In that capacity, he met with officials from the Overseas Chinese Affairs Committee of China’s national legislature. Pan also once hosted a Liberal fundraiser at his home, with Justin Trudeau in attendance.

Nearly 300 supporters donated $70,000 to Gao for his legal defence. In the end, the judge awarded Pan only $1 in damages.

The Alliance Guard of Canadian Values also stages protests, including one in 2016 demanding former Vancouver city councillor Kerry Jang resign after he participated in a ceremony raising China’s flag over Vancouver city hall.

“We think there’s a need to spread the values of Canada — human rights, freedom of speech — to spread these values in our Chinese community,” Huang said. “Why? Because we noticed the influence more than 10 years ago, the influence of the Chinese Communist Party in Canada.”

Last year, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) issued a report warning China uses influence gained through commercial ventures to push the Chinese Communist Party’s agenda abroad. In 2010, then-CSIS director Richard Fadden suggested in a television interview that numerous public officials in Canada were under the influence of the Chinese government.

Meanwhile, Canadian officials and big business continue to advocate closer trade relations with the country. A 2017 story in The Globe and Mail cited parliamentary records that show MPs and senators have accepted dozens of trips to China, paid for by Chinese business groups and arms of the Chinese government.

On Monday, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer demanded Primer Minister Justin Trudeau pull Canada’s funds out of China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

The Liberal Party of Canada and Conservative Party of Canada did not reveal whether they plan to introduce policies on Canada-China relations during this year’s election. The NDP told the Star it will craft policy.

Huang and Gao said Canada has wasted enough chances to bring in “proper” policy and say the issue can no longer be avoided.

Gao said he himself was a victim of China’s influence in Canada. He once had a substantial presence as a columnist in the local Chinese media but was fired from a newspaper a few year ago after a story critical of a Chinese official. He said his editor cited a complaint from the Chinese consulate in Vancouver. He’s been dropped by a number of other media outlets and suspects similar pressure is to blame.

“We talk about the Chinese government using the Chinese community in Canada to make their goals, not only in business but also on a political level,” Huang said. “Which is more of a threat to our foundation of freedom.”

Australia’s foreign interference law, which makes it a crime to covertly take action to influence policy at the behest of a foreign power, is something Huang wants to see discussed in Canada. He also wants Canada to challenge China on trade the way the United States has, citing a large imbalance between the two nations.

It isn’t just Huang who predicts Canada-China relations will be an election issue.

Nik Nanos, chair of Nanos Research, said Canada’s political parties will need “issue specific” policies on trade, Huawei and 5G development with China during this year’s election.

“Canadians have had a clear indication of what China’s really like, based on how it’s lashed out on the canola file, based on the rhetoric that is put out there related to the detaining of the Huawei executive,” Nanos said. “It’s put more of a real face on how China operates and what they think of Canada.”

Canada-China Policies will be especially important in British Columbia, he said, which is more Pacific oriented both culturally and economically.

“It shouldn’t be surprising that Canadians understand the opportunity and importance of China but at the same time are worried, as a small power negotiating with a super power, any trade deal may not work out well for us,” Nanos said.

Huang warns the push for deepened relations with China — in order to appease some big Canadian business and hopefully win votes from the Chinese community — is misguided. The Chinese community in Canada is not a monolith, and such actions by Canadian politicians do Canada no favours.

“The government, they don’t fully understand,” Huang said. “They know less — just a little bit — about our society, our culture and our political views.”

But expecting Canadian politicians to learn and adjust may not bear fruit, said a leading scholar on China’s political interference in western countries, who just wrapped up a trip to Canada to examine the situation here.

Clive Hamilton is a professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, Australia, who has been a harsh critic of attempts to influence his own country’s politics.

Hamilton told Star Vancouver his recent trip to Canada left him “quite worried about the capacity of Canada to extricate itself from the unwelcome and undemocratic influence of the Chinese Communist Party.”

He said it’s clear China has been “cultivating” friends in high places and penetrating Canadian institutions for some time. He’s worried agreements could be made by Canada’s biggest political parties to avoid the topic this year.

One party breaking away and making China relations an issue could force other parties to follow suit or risk public backlash, he said.

Hamilton added it’s important parties hammer home they are concerned about the Chinese Communist Party, not China or the Chinese people, who “ought to be welcome” in Canada.

After all, they’re facing the most pressure to support Beijing’s actions.

“Chinese Canadians are the biggest victims of the Communist Party’s influence operations in Canada. They’re the ones who have the most at stake,” he said. “They’re the ones whose families are penalized or whose businesses are shut down if they displease Beijing.”

Source: This is the resistance to China’s influence in Canada, and this is their moment

With lives at stake, Canada’s misguided vision of China demands a careful reboot: David Mulroney

Another good column by Mulroney. His reference to the naiveté of diaspora politics, highlighted, particularly relevant given recent instances of Chinese government activity in Canada (e.g., Student groups call for Ottawa to investigate alleged interference by Chinese officials on Canadian campuses):

Canada’s primary foreign-policy challenge with China has been clear for months now. We have to secure the freedom of detained Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, and save the lives of fellow Canadians Robert Schellenberg and Fan Wei, who face death sentences from a murky Chinese legal system that takes instruction from the Chinese state. Our message to allies is clear, too: we all have a stake in pushing back against a China that uses hostage diplomacy, economic blackmail and even the threat of execution to achieve its objectives.

But there’s another equally challenging China task on the horizon. We need to start thinking about what we’ve learned from this terrible episode, and how it should shape our future relationship with China.

We’re not very good at this. The natural inclination of every bureaucracy in times of crisis is to restore the status quo ante. This happens for a variety of reasons, among them the fact that reviving an old strategy is a lot easier than thinking up a new one. But we’re also still in the grips of a misguided vision of China, one especially dear to the Canadian governing and business classes, that naively embraces almost everything that Beijing has on offer.

The current government refers to this as “comprehensive engagement,” something former ambassador John McCallum rendered more descriptively for Chinese audiences with the phrase geng duo, meaning “even more.” Just about any idea was worth considering, was the implication – as long as it lived up to our Olympian ambitions.

Few former diplomats, including this one, can claim to have entirely resisted the geng duo impulse to substitute promotion for policy. But given the undeniable evidence of China’s hostility to core Canadian interests, starting with the safety of our citizens, we urgently need to reconsider our approach.

There is no shutting the door to China, which is increasingly central to our prosperity and to solving threats to the environment, global health and food safety. But we will have to be much more thoughtful about how we do this, moving from comprehensive engagement to something smarter and more tailored to our objectives and vulnerabilities.

The days of indiscriminately encouraging China-bound travel and pumping Canadian delegations into China, a state that capriciously detains foreigners, are over. We should start by skipping events dedicated to China’s boundless appetite for international self-promotion or the delusion that China is a democracy in the making.

We also need to think carefully about trade and investment promotion, particularly in sectors like canola, where China’s immense demand gives it leverage over us. We need to work even harder at finding new markets, and doing more processing here in Canada to add value to what we sell. China seems to find economic blackmail easiest with commodities.

It’s also time to re-examine the received wisdom that shapes our China strategy, purging it of a sort of malware encouraged by China to delude the naive. This includes such fictions as the idea that China is inherently peaceful and has no territorial ambitions, that it abides by a policy of non-interference in other countries, that trade is a favour it bestows on friendly nations, and that access to its leaders is an end and reward in itself.

The idea that our China policy tends to be highly corrupted by these falsehoods is proven by our enduring gullibility on two important counts. The first is the idea that Canadians of Chinese origin are something of a shared bilateral resource, and that members of this community have a responsibility to help their fellow citizens better understand China. This fits hand-in-glove with the Canadian penchant for diaspora politics, and opens the door to Chinese interference.

The second powerful myth is that China is so uniquely sensitive that, no matter what it does, any response other than abject silence is hurtful and dangerously counterproductive. This has contributed to persistent Canadian passivity in the face of outrageous behaviour.

Getting China right will be particularly difficult for a Liberal government that has, to put it charitably, struggled with foreign policy. The government approaches the world beyond our borders with the inexplicable conviction that other countries are either as progressive as Liberal voters or aspire to be. This is wrong, and dangerously so.

We simply can’t postpone a rethink of our approach to China, and we must finally be open to the idea that, when it comes to engaging Beijing, smarter is better than comprehensive – and less is almost certainly better than more.

Source: With lives at stake, Canada’s misguided vision of China demands a careful reboot David Mulroney May 1, 2019     

After Israel’s election, the country is on a dangerous political path: Erna Paris

Good thoughtful commentary. Should Netanyahu follow on his election commitments regarding annexation, will certainly make it harder to argue against BDS:

In her final work, The March of Folly, the late historian Barbara Tuchman defined her subject as “the pursuit of policy contrary to public interest.” Her criteria for folly were threefold: An alternative course of action was available; the actions were endorsed by a group, not just by a particular leader; and the actions were perceived as counterproductive in their own time.

Among Ms. Tuchman’s far-ranging examples were the Trojan Horse and the American war in Vietnam. Were she alive today, she might have included the increasingly dangerous trajectory of Israeli politics.

Following the country’s election this week, Israel, the United States and the Jewish diaspora have arrived at a historical juncture. Although Benjamin Netanyahu and his centrist opponent, Benny Gantz, tied in terms of seats, the former may well govern at the will of a coalition whose ethno-nationalist policies threaten the democratic nature of the country and promise to destroy even the rhetoric of a peace process.

The new entity includes Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), an offspring of Kach, the party of the late Meir Kahane, which was outlawed in Israel in 1994 for inciting racism, and designated a terrorist organization in both the United States and Canada. Jewish Power advocates the annexation of the occupied West Bank without offering Israeli citizenship to its 2.8 million Palestinian residents, a move that would create a state like South Africa under apartheid. The party also promotes the deportation of “Arab extremists,” dependent upon an undefined “loyalty test.”

In catapulting Jewish Power to centre stage and becoming beholden to its politics, Mr. Netanyahu may have overstepped and altered the political status quo. There would be consequences to radical illiberal legislation. First, the anger of the Palestinians and the larger Arab world, with inevitable security implications. Second, the annexation of millions of West Bank Palestinians would transform Israel into a binational state, threatening both its democratic and Jewish character. Third, the hitherto tight support of diaspora Jews for the State of Israel could fracture – a process that started weeks ago when news of Mr. Netanyahu’s alignment with far-right extremism became known.

The relationship of diaspora Jews to the State of Israel is complex and quasi-religious in nature. Based on ancient biblical yearnings coupled with the emergence of political Zionism in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the desire for a safe homeland peaked in the wake of the Holocaust and was celebrated with the creation of the state. Seventy subsequent years of war and failed peacemaking with Arabs who also claim rights to the region have incrementally toughened the minds of Israelis and many of their supporters in the diaspora, especially during the long swing to the right under the governance of Mr. Netanyahu. But the radical views of Jewish Power may be a historic dividing line, for they are widely seen to betray the ancient core values of Judaism itself: deeply ingrained ethical imperatives, held by the religious and secular alike, such as Tikkun Olam – the biblical mandate to make the world a better place.

Such values also underpin liberal democracies such as the United States, and there are signs of fracture. A Muslim member of Congress, a Democrat, caused an unprecedented ruckus by questioning unwavering American support for Israel. Harder to impugn was the unique criticism emanating from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which called Jewish Power “racist and reprehensible.” Stigmatizing Israeli Arabs is “immoral,” the influential U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League added. Rabbis in both the United States and Canada also weighed in.

But other considerations may be riskier still for the long-term diaspora-Israel relationship. The majority of American Jews vote Democrat, but contemporary Israelis admire U.S. President Donald Trump. There’s a chasm of values in that equation. Jewish Power has also opened a consequential political wedge: Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders openly wished for Mr. Netanyahu’s defeat without being vilified. Add in the further perils of demography, for as the memory of the Holocaust recedes, along with the fervent nationalism born of the 1967 war, younger Jews around the world are statistically less attached to Israel than their elders.

Diaspora Jews cannot vote in Israeli elections, but Israel is a U.S. client state, and a shift in Jewish support will matter. Paradoxically, should Mr. Netanyahu cross a perceived moral line, principled resistance from the diaspora may help prevent Israel, the beloved country, from pursuing its perilous march to folly.

‘China is your daddy’: Backlash against Tibetan student’s election prompts questions about foreign influence

Disturbing if not surprising:

What might otherwise be the usual mudslinging around a student election has turned into a political firestorm on a Toronto university campus, where a newly-elected student president is raising questions about the source of pro-China attacks against her.

On Saturday morning, Chemi Lhamo, 22, learned she’d been elected student president at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus (UTSC).

By noon, her phone was buzzing incessantly with notifications. But instead of messages of congratulations, Lhamo — a Canadian citizen of Tibetan origin — realized a photo she’d posted on Instagram for the Lunar New Year was attracting thousands of hateful comments, most rife with anti-Tibet sentiment, some threatening.

“China is your daddy — you better know this,” read one comment.

“Ur not gonna be the president of UTSC,” read another. “Even if you do, we will make sure things get done so u won’t survive a day. Peace RIP.”

That wasn’t all. A petition calling on Lhamo to step down had amassed nearly 10,000 signatures.

And there was a message on the Chinese mobile service We Chat making the rounds, calling on Chinese international students to stop Lhamo from becoming president.

The message, posted by the account Ladder Street, said: “The U of T student union is about to be controlled by Tibetan separatists.” The message also says Lhamo shouldn’t benefit from the millions of dollars brought in each year by Chinese students.

A message on the Chinese mobile service We Chat is making the rounds, calling on Chinese international students to stop Lhamo from becoming president. (CBC)

“At first, of course, it takes you aback,” Lhamo said in an interview with CBC News.

“As a leader within the community, it’s heartbreaking to see sometimes that your constituents or your students that you are so passionate about serving are upset about you.”

Foreign influence ‘beyond plausible’

Beyond that, Lhamo said she is worried about her safety and took her concerns to the University of Toronto. On Monday, the students union made the decision to close her office due to security concerns.

The onslaught of hate also has Lhamo questioning whether larger forces might be behind the harassment.

That’s something Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former senior CSIS official for the Asia-Pacific region, said would be entirely consistent with what he observed during his 40 years in the intelligence service.

“I would have expected such a thing … particularly because she’s a young woman who has been actively involved in her circle of free Tibet,” said Juneau-Katsuya, acknowledging he didn’t have definitive proof of foreign influence in Lhamo’s case.

Lhamo’s participation in groups supportive of Tibetan independence from China would have made her a threat in the eyes of the Chinese intelligence services, Juneau-Katsuya said.

Asked if Chinese government forces might be at play in the campaign against Lhamo, Juneau-Katsuya said, “it’s beyond plausible.”

“The university centres have always been a great pull of attraction for either stealing intellectual property or trying to influence politically,” he said.

Academic cautions against ‘hyped-up’ allegations

As an example, Juneau-Katsuya cited the Confucius Institute, a Beijing-run cultural organization which has been criticized as an attempt by the Chinese government to conduct surveillance and extend its political influence.

Over the years, several Confucius Institute programs across Canada and the United States have closed amid concerns about their aims, with the Toronto District School Board voting to end its partnership with the organization in 2014.

“It is their strategy to try to undermine, to try to mute any form of opposition or dissidence that could at one point or another gain access to a mic,” Juneau-Katsuya said.

But at least one academic cautions against making assumptions about the source of the vitriol.

Lynette Ong, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, said that in the wake of the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou and subsequent arrest of two Canadians in China, “public opinion has shifted significantly against the Chinese community.

“It is of utmost importance to separate Chinese students, individuals, companies from the Chinese government,” said Ong. “Given the tense bilateral Canada-China relations now, any hyped-up allegations without firm evidence does no good to any parties.”

Chinese embassy doesn’t respond

The Chinese embassy in Ottawa didn’t respond to questions about the extent of its involvement with student groups on Canadian campuses or whether it has a position on Lhamo’s election.

The Ladder Street, a student group at the University of Toronto Scarborough campus, did not respond to inquiries about whether it was behind the WeChat message or whether it receives support from the Chinese government.

Global Affairs Canada did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Asked if the University of Toronto was investigating the source of the online vitriol against Lhamo, spokesperson Don Campbell said, “We continue to be in touch with the student. The extent of our focus is on making sure she feels safe and is aware of university services available to her.”

Lhamo said she would like to see more action from the university, including a formal investigation.

For now, she said she sees the online attacks against her as an opportunity to put the values she said she was raised with into practice.

“This is my chance … to test myself whether or not I can be patient and have compassion for other entities that don’t necessarily feel the same way towards me.”

Source: ‘China is your daddy’: Backlash against Tibetan student’s election prompts questions about foreign influence