Now more than ever, Canada needs to resume diplomatic ties with Iran

Pertinent advice by our former head of mission to Iran and Saudi Arabia (his cross posting was from Iran to Saudi Arabia, mine at a much more junior level was the reverse, from Saudi Arabia to Iran in the mid-to-late 1980s).

I always felt that one of the most significant aspect of having diplomatic relations and embassies was the ability to provide consular services, both for Iranians in Canadians and Canadians in Iran.

The shooting down of the Ukraine International provides a dramatic illustration of this need:

The plane crash in Iran on Wednesday that killed 176 people, including at least 63 Canadians, was an unimaginable human tragedy. Families and futures were lost in the blink of an eye. The pain will last generations.

For diplomats, dealing with the deaths of Canadians abroad is one of the most difficult challenges. It is also one of the most important. Families are going through the worst time of their lives. It is the role of diplomats to step in and try to facilitate the process of returning their loved ones to Canada, while dealing with the often mind-numbing and incomprehensible bureaucratic realities that inevitably come with it.

Dealing with these events is even more challenging when Canada has no diplomatic presence on the ground or even diplomatic relations with the country where the tragedy occurred. That is the case with Iran.

Canada’s relations with Iran had been fraught from the earliest days of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, given Canada’s role in facilitating the escape of six U.S. diplomats during the hostage crisis. It was an episode that hung over the bilateral relationship for decades – with more than one Iranian official berating me during my time in Iran for helping those “American spies.”

There were a range of additional policy issues and differences that had fractured the relationship in the intervening years. The final break came with the passage of the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act (JVTA) in March, 2012, and the listing of Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism in September, 2012. The legislation allowed for the seizure and sale of Iranian government properties in Canada.

The JVTA made the security situation for the Canadian embassy in Iran untenable; a point that was driven home only months before when the British embassy was violently attacked by an Iranian mob. We were now about to start seizing Iranian properties in Canada. The embassy was closed the day the legislation naming Iran came into effect.

It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was a necessary one. We knew that Canada’s ability to provide consular services would suffer. Italy stepped up as our protecting power in-country and management of consular services was transferred to the Canadian embassy in Ankara. In normal circumstances, it was a manageable, if inadequate and inconvenient, arrangement.

The system, however, was not designed to handle a crisis situation like the one that occurred on Wednesday. Those kinds of situations cannot be managed remotely.

The Islamic Republic is never an easy partner to deal with, even, sadly, in tragic situations. Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne’s call to his Iranian counterpart, Javid Zarif, was a good start. It’s to be hoped it will pave the way for Iranian co-operation in helping Canada try and ease the suffering of families by letting our officials go to Iran to do what they need to do. That’s the least that can be expected and they deserve the full co-operation of Iranian authorities on the ground. But given the state of our relations (or, more to the point, lack thereof) that cannot be assumed. I do hope, though, that Iran does not use its refusal to recognize dual nationality to argue that Canada has no direct interest in this incident. Sadly, that cannot be ruled out.

There are reports that the Iranian Civil Aviation Authorities have invited Canada’s Transportation Safety Board to join the international team being assembled to investigate the crash and according to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, consular officials are heading to Iran. In light of Canadian intelligence information that the plane seems to have been shot down by the Iranian military, we can’t be certain Iran will allow Canadian access. The fact that Iran was on the other end of similar event in 1988, when an Iranian commercial aircraft was brought down over the Persian Gulf by an American naval vessel, should enhance willingness to co-operate, but how open they actually will be remains to be seen.

It would be a welcome outcome if this incident provided new impetus to the effort to resume diplomatic ties and a return to Tehran in due course, taking into account the broader geopolitical context. There is no substitute for being on the ground. Canada has been blind to what has been happening in Iran – especially important these past several days – and we have our hands tied in dealing with this tragedy.

But that will require dealing with the JVTA and that will be tough politically. The federal government will be accused of going soft on Iran and denying that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism. Removing the JVTA says nothing of the sort. The JVTA was a mistake that is hurting Canadian interests and, more importantly, undercutting the government’s duty to serve Canadians. It should go.

Source: Now more than ever, Canada needs to resume diplomatic ties with Iran: Dennis Horak

Spy agency says Canadians are targets of foreign influence campaigns

More on foreign influence and interference:

Canadians are more exposed to “influence” operations than ever before according to an internal assessment from the country’s electronic spy agency.

A 2018 memo from the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) warned the rise of “web technology” like social media, along with Canadians’ changing habits for consuming media, make the population much more likely to encounter efforts by foreign powers to shape domestic political opinion.

“These new systems have generated unintended threats to the democratic process, as they deprive the public of accurate information, informed political commentary and the means to identify and ignore fraudulent information,” reads the memo, classified as Canadian Eyes Only.

“Foreign states have harnessed the new online influence systems to undertake influence activities against Western democratic processes, and they use cyber capabilities to enhance their influence activities through, for example, cyber espionage.”

“Foreign states steal and release information, modify or make information more compelling and distracting, create fraudulent or distorted ‘news,’ or amplify fringe and sometimes noxious opinions.”

The memo was prepared as Canada’s intelligence agencies were engaged in an exercise to protect the 2019 federal election from foreign interference.

Elections across the democratic world — the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and the European Union — have in recent years been the targets of misinformation and cyberespionage campaigns from hostile countries.

There is no evidence that Canada’s recent federal election was the target of sophisticated cyber espionage or misinformation campaigns.

But another document prepared by CSE makes clear that Canadian politicians have already been targeted by foreign “influence” campaigns.

An undated slide deck prepared by the CSE suggested “sources linked to Russia popularized (then Global Affairs Minister Chrystia) Freeland’s family history” and targeted Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s appearance and turban in Russian-language media outlets in the Balkans.

The agency appears to be referring to stories, which were reported by mainstream Canadian news outlets, suggesting Freeland’s grandfather edited a Nazi-associated newspaper in occupied Poland.

The stories were “very likely intended to cause personal reputational damage in order to discredit the Government (of) Canada’s ongoing diplomatic and military support for Ukraine, to delegitimize Canada’s decision to enact the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Offices Act, and the 2018 expulsion of several Russian diplomats,” the documents, first reported by Global News, state.

The attacks against Sajjan, meanwhile, were “almost certainly” intended to discredit the NATO presence in Latvia, where Canadian forces are deployed as part of a NATO mission to deter Russian expansion after the invasion of Crimea.

“Since Canada’s deployment to Latvia, subtle and overtly racist comments pertaining to … Sajjan’s appearance, particularly his turban, have consistently appeared across Russian-language media in the Baltic region,” the documents read.

“Even ostensibly professional news sources are not above such descriptions. When … Sajjan attended a conference in Latvia in October 2017, he was described by as ‘a large swarthy man in a big black turban.’”

Compared to some of the attacks on Western democracies, those two influence campaigns were minor in scale and impact. But the intelligence agency suggested that more and more countries are turning to cyber capabilities to further their own goals at the expense of other nations. And CSE’s analysis suggests their willing to play the long game.

“In the longer-term, influence activities, both cyber and human, are likely to challenge the transparency and independence of the decision-making process, reduce public trust (and) confidence in institutions, and push policy in directions inimical to Canadian interests,” the documents, released under access to information law, read.

“Many European states and some private companies have begun to develop countermeasures to malicious activities aimed at democratic processes, including increasing public understanding and resilience. However, little has been done to create robust, institutionalized multilateral responses.”

Parliament’s new national security review committee has completed a review of foreign espionage activities in Canada and submitted it to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The classified report detailing their findings is expected to be released early in 2020, once the House of Commons resumes sitting.

Source: Spy agency says Canadians are targets of foreign influence campaigns

The Liberal government’s foreign policy cop out

The has been a continuing refrain over the last 20 to 30 years that Canada needs a  “muscular” foreign service and an infusion of funding to strengthen the foreign service. Yet no government, Liberal or Conservative, has done so given domestic priorities (including trade).

So while it is valid to make these arguments, it would be far better to be more focussed on specific areas where the current foreign service should focus on than pining for something that no government is likely to consider.

And of course, a major factor behind the success and public support for our immigration system is precisely due to it focussed on economic class immigrants, where self-interest comes most into play:

Every October, Canada invades Istanbul in a way that might seem downright crass to Canadian sensibilities. The city’s historic Beyoglu district, one of its richest and most liberal, home to hundreds of bars, restaurants, galleries, clubs and, at one time, the Canadian consulate, transforms into a red and white extravaganza, its cobblestoned alleyways adorned with posters announcing the yearly Canada Edu Days fair.

Now, if the fair feted Canada’s contributions to the world—multiculturalism, cooperation, tolerance—there would be no need for this column. Canada would be, finally, touting all those things that are increasingly, in a world infected by authoritarianism and self-interest, disappearing.

Instead, the fair does what Canada seems to do best in the world: poaching talent. As the name implies, Canada Edu Days is about studying in Canada. Every year, it pairs up Canadian colleges with thousands of young dreamers eyeing a way out of Turkey’s deteriorating economy and its socio-political morass.

That’s great; Canada needs talent, and Turkey’s remarkably talented youth are in desperate need of opportunities. But in and of itself, it’s also a feature of Canada’s failure to act responsibly at a historically critical moment: Rather than bringing what makes Canada great to the world when the world needs leadership, it is capitalizing on the chaos, siphoning off valuable human resources like a war profiteer.

This is the dark side of Canada’s pollyannaish self-image. We are great in large part because we have an immigration system that prioritizes talent over desperation. We can retreat at times of global uncertainty because we have valuable resources and a relatively small population.

But retreat should not be an option in a world where men like Donald Trump, Xi Jinping and Jair Bolsonaro are ascendant. Nor should waiting and hoping that these agents of self-interest will magically disappear and the world will go back to normal. Experts warn that is simply not going to happen. Canada should not be trying to save the world order as it was but helping to shape the world order as it will bewhen the dust finally does settle.

The Liberal government, like past governments, appears unwilling to take on that task.  If the Throne Speech was any indication, Canada’s role in the world will figure even less prominently than it has in the recent past. All the pretty words reinforced what has become the defining feature of the Liberal government on the world stage: It talks in the modernist voice about grand narratives—global peace and harmony, equality and justice—but fails to appreciate the postmodern reality of fragmentation and discord.

What we need is boldness. Canada’s foreign service is in shambles; it needs urgent reform and an infusion of funding. The Liberals may not have created the problem, but they have failed to address it and that failure has had consequences. As Jennifer Welsh, the Canada 150 research chair in Global Governance and Security and director of the Centre for International Peace and Security Studies at McGill University, told me in July, the Liberal government’s foreign policy has been “ineffective” in many cases because it lacks the “deep relationships” needed in a world where traditional alliances are unravelling.

“An operating principle of our foreign policy should be that we have to form relationships around particular issues with countries where we believe we have enough common ground to advance things together,” she said. “In the current environment, that is going to require not necessarily the usual suspects.”

Without a muscular foreign service, there is no developing those relationships. Foreign policy becomes what Daniel Livermore, senior fellow at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, calls “government by PMO directive”.

“That was very much the case under Harper,” he says. ” The PMO decides something and then says to Global Affairs here’s what we’re going to do. There has been a lot more pushback from Global Affairs under Trudeau but it hasn’t been nearly strong enough.”

The problem, Livermore adds, is fundamental to the department. It lacks the “bench strength” to “offer an entirely different vision of how to do foreign policy.”

For a country like Canada, a middle power with limited heft in the world, knowledge is essential. Middle powers have to carefully pick and choose their moments and identify issues where they feel they can have a measurable impact. But instead of taking up the challenge, the Liberals have retreated into a defensive posture.

Canada should prioritize more engagement with the world at every level, from leadership to the grassroots. Here in Istanbul, it seemed a few years ago that something was about change after the Canadian consulate was shifted to a shiny new office tower in the Levent business district. It was an improvement from the dingy apartment Canada used occupy in Beyoglu, where one woman and her cat would greet visitors with listless stares. It felt as if the new consulate would be more active, more dynamic, more forward leaning.

But the early signs were there of a different kind of shift. Heavy security greeted visitors to the office tower. The C-suite feel also portended the growing Canadian dependence on trade-based diplomacy. Canada would engage with CEOs and business leaders from its perch high above Istanbul’s frenetic streets but at the expense of understanding the mood of the people.

Wouldn’t it be great if instead of a student recruitment fair, Istanbul was painted red red and white with posters announcing the opening of a Canadian cultural centre? Or a multiculturalism festival? Or an art exhibition? Wouldn’t it be great if Canada’s engagement with the world included talking to young people on the streets, the same young people who are now protesting in Hong Kong, Chile and Iraq?

That kind of engagement would mean beefing up our foreign service with people who can speak local languages, who are comfortable leaving the confines of our cozy diplomatic missions and getting their hands dirty. It would mean being bold.

Source: The Liberal government’s foreign policy cop out

Shameful: @TrueNorthCentre using the two Michaels to raise funds

Speaks for itself – petition and involvement more to raise funds than substance – see highlighted text:

Two Canadians arrested by Chinese authorities on trumped-up charges have been in prison for exactly one year on December 10th.
Enough is enough.
We’re tired of the Chinese communist regime bullying Canada.
To anyone paying attention to China, both its grotesque human rights record and its increasingly belligerent foreign affairs, it’s clear that China is no friend to Canada.
It’s time the Trudeau government stand up to China and demand the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
One can only imagine what conditions they’re being detained in.
We created a petition to help the two Canadians.
If 10,000 Canadians sign this petition, we’re going to table it in the House of Commons.
Can you sign this petition and share it with your friends and family?
We want as many Canadians as possible to sign this petition. We know the majority of Canadians understand the threat communist China poses to Canada.
If you’re able to, chip in a few dollars to help us promote this petition on social media.
Thank you for standing up for Canada,
True North

Huawei Canada exec insists CFO Meng Wanzhou is victim of ‘politicization’

Always somewhat amusing when a former senior minister (John Baird, shilling for Saudi Arabia) or former senior aide, in Alykhan’s case, works for a Chinese company despite having been part of a government with legitimate concerns over Chinese influence.

And good on the reporter for challenging him for his firm not making representation to free the two Michaels:

One of Huawei’s Canadian bosses says he is concerned about the “politicization” of its CFO’s case south of the border, but dodged questions on why the firm won’t speak out more strongly for the two Canadians arbitrarily detained in China.

In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, the executive and former director of issues management for Stephen Harper’s government insisted Huawei Canada respects Canadian laws but did not answer when asked whether the branch would call for the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

“Well, you know, we’re concerned. We’ve said that we want the two governments to work together to find a resolution that can bring them home as soon as possible,” said Alykhan Velshi, vice president of corporate affairs of the Canadian branch of the Chinese company.

“With respect to Meng Wanzhou, obviously she has access to Canadian court, she has lawyers here and we remain confident that she will be found innocent because she is innocent and we remain alarmed by the politicization of her trial down in the United States.”

He would not clearly explain why the domestic branch of the company isn’t saying the same for fellow citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, detained by the Chinese government in apparent retaliation for Canada’s observance of its extradition treaty with the U.S.

Under that extradition treaty, Canada honours roughly nine in every 10 requests from the U.S. and it is the courts that decide on the merits of a case for extradition, with the ultimate decision lying at the very end of the process with the Minister for Immigration only in the event extradition is approved.

“If you’re alarmed by that politicization, are you not alarmed that these Canadian citizens are being held on what the Canadian government says are completely specious charges?” Stephenson asked Velshi.

“As I’ve said, we’re concerned. I think all Canadians are concerned by what’s happening over there by their treatment and we want this resolved as soon as possible,” he responded.

“But the solution can only be found by governments working together — by our government here in Ottawa, by the government in China, diplomats working together so we can bring them home as soon as possible. That’s our hope and I think that’s the hope of all Canadians.”

Kovrig, a diplomat on leave from Global Affairs Canada, and Spavor, an entrepreneur, were detained by Chinese authorities last December.

The action came just days after Canadian authorities arrested Meng on a provisional warrant from the United States. Shortly afterwards, the U.S.  charged her and her company with allegedly skirting sanctions on Iran and stealing corporate secrets.

Kovrig and Spavor were held without charge until May 2019, when China formally arrested them on accusations of spying.

They have been kept in conditions described as “harsh,” with no access to lawyers and with the lights on 24 hours a day.

They have received only limited consular visits.

Meng, meanwhile, is out on bail and living in one of her Vancouver homes.

She is currently fighting extradition to the U.S., a process that could take years.

Huawei is seeking to bid on the upcoming 5G spectrum auction but faces allegations from intelligence agencies and experts around the world that it poses a national security risk because of a Chinese law that requires Chinese companies to spy for the state if requested.

Canada is currently in the midst of a review on whether to allow Huawei to bid in that auction.

Officials here are under pressure though from the Americans, who have deemed Huawei an unacceptable security risk and implemented a ban on U.S. companies using its technology. However, they have also issued repeated exemptions to that ban, most recently last month.

Source:  Huawei Canada exec insists CFO Meng Wanzhou is victim of ‘politicization’ – National

Guy Saint-Jacques: No end in sight to the plight of the Two Michaels

Good commentary from our former ambassador:

I wake up every day thinking about the predicament of Michael Kovrig, a great colleague with whom I enjoyed working at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing, and hope that a miracle will happen and free him and Michael Spavor. On this sad anniversary of their first year in detention, the strategy followed by Ottawa has had limited results: Not only have they not been released on bail, but they have not even seen a lawyer!

Since China has warned us that things won’t get back to normal until we return Meng Wanzhou to China, there is no end in sight. Our farmers have lost billions of dollars in sales of canola (exports are down 50 per cent this year), soya, peas and meat. Since the United States created this problem by asking us to arrest Meng, they need to do more to help us resolve the crisis. But knowing Donald Trump’s opinion of our prime minister, can we rely on the U.S.? The message should be that we will be less forthcoming the next time around when the U.S. asks a service from us.

Is it possible to have normal relations with China? As Nicholas Kristof wrote in the New York Times on Nov. 30, it has become more difficult to remain ambivalent after the revelations about China’s campaign in the province of Xinjiang that borders on cultural genocide and its non-respect of the one-country-two-systems agreement on Hong Kong. Assuming that our compatriots would be released next year, I don’t think it is possible to restart the relationship where it was prior to the crisis. Still, we need to look at where we want to be in five or 10 years from now, as China is key to addressing common global problems such as climate change, nuclear proliferation and global pandemics.

The ongoing crisis with China shows the challenges of dealing with a superpower that ignores international rules when they are not to its liking. While Canada is not the first country to be on the receiving end of China’s displeasure and bullying tactics, this is the first time that a targeted country has rallied support from allies. I believe this has taken China by surprise as the reaction affects its image abroad. Our message should be that we are reassessing the relationship and that all official exchanges will be suspended until they release Kovrig and Spavor. After that, we will want to re-engage, but on the basis of reciprocity and mutual respect.

We should start immediately to reassess our engagement strategy with China, recognizing upfront that it has turned into a much more authoritarian state and a strategic competitor since Xi Jinping became secretary-general of the Chinese Communist Party in November 2012. Of course, our capacity to influence China is very limited — our goal is simply to ensure that basic human rights are better protected and that China stops behaving like a spoiled child.

Let’s not abdicate our values. We should react quickly and firmly when we find instances of interference in Canadian affairs, including among Canadians of Chinese origin, espionage activities, or attempts to limit debate on Canadian campuses. The government should look at Australia’s experience and the measures it has taken to deal with Chinese interference. I would also suggest that we undertake a review of ongoing collaboration in the field of high-tech, including artificial intelligence, to ensure that our expertise is not used in China for domestic controls or to limit freedom of expression.

We also have to cultivate expertise on China in all areas of the public service to ensure a well-informed and more sophisticated China policy. This requires supporting universities and think-tanks that study China, but also maintaining contacts in the People’s Republic of China to better understand its objectives and policies, with a focus on the communist party, which has taken over many tasks of the government. We also need programs to entice more young people to learn Mandarin.

As economic opportunities are still available for Canadian companies, the federal and provincial governments and agencies should continue to support Canadian companies in China. There is a need to better integrate information and provide more clarity to companies about assistance available from governments at various steps. In parallel, we also need to diversify our trade by putting more emphasis on other Asian countries to take full advantage of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and other free trade agreements we have in the region.

Clearly, Canada is not in a position by itself to criticize China much on its trade practices or human rights. Therefore, as Western countries all face similar challenges in dealing with China, the strategy going forward should be to work together on ensuring that the multilateral system is protected with the same rules for all. The message to China should be that we welcome it to play a larger role in international affairs and to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as long as it stops bullying countries and becomes a better global citizen.

China has been good at ragging the puck for too long: It’s time to apply reciprocity — i.e. we should allow Chinese companies to invest in Canada when a Canadian company is able to do the same in China.

One day, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor will be free. Let’s hope that they can resume their lives as soon as possible.

Source: Guy Saint-Jacques: No end in sight to the plight of the Two Michaels

A year ago, Ottawa did the right thing by arresting Meng Wanzhou. We’re still paying the price

The latest by former ambassador to China, David Mulroney, capping a series of articles in the Globe and elsewhere on the challenges posed by China and the arguments for a more robust response:

A year after the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, new reporting is shedding light on what actually happened and when. But we’re still a long way from understanding the fallout from the arrest, and what it tells us about China and our future.

It appears that Vancouver was the place the Americans selected in their bid to get the well-travelled Ms. Meng arrested because they deemed Canada the country most likely to comply with their request. Given the price we’ve paid since, that’s a dubious honour. But it’s also an indication of the extent to which a bipartisan cross-section of official Washington trusts Canada. That trust was not misplaced.

It’s also clear that Canada was given advance warning of the request, although not much. Canadian officials heard from the Americans on Nov. 30, the day before Ms. Meng’s arrival in Vancouver, allowing them the minimum amount of time to act.

But it was time enough for the team that considered the American evidence. The toughest calls in Ottawa always come with the tightest deadlines. Getting them right is the essence of a senior official’s job.

That said, it’s not clear that officials anticipated how furiously China would react, or the difficulty of managing an extended crisis in Canada-China relations. Having stepped up to make the right call, Ottawa then seemed to go into responsive mode, consistently a step behind a strident and formidably vengeful China.

Once the decision to arrest Ms. Meng was made, it was entirely appropriate to advise the Prime Minister – he was, after all, at a summit that included both U.S. President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.

But we should be wary of the idea that the Prime Minister could or should have weighed in to cancel the arrest because of its impact on Canada-China relations. That would set a precedent whereby all future extradition requests concerning China, and – ultimately – any other country big enough to make life difficult for us, would follow a separate, political decision-making track. This would be exploited by China and other rising powers, and risk transforming Canada into a safe haven for fraudsters, sanction evaders and human-rights violators.

We should be equally dismissive of the objection that China’s consular officials weren’t informed of the arrest in a timely manner. When I served as ambassador, China was notoriously cavalier about informing us, even months later, of the arrest of Canadian citizens, particularly those of Chinese origin. Chinese officials were notified of Ms. Meng’s arrest in a fraction of the time they typically take to inform us when a Canadian is arrested.

That said, beyond simply advising the Chinese of the arrest, we probably should have reached out quickly to more senior Chinese officials to explain what had happened and where things might go. But given that our communicator-in-chief at that point was John McCallum, our garrulous former ambassador, it probably wouldn’t have helped much.

Ultimately, it’s hard not to feel that the tight time frame for decision making was a blessing, enabling us to do the right thing before other, less-principled agendas had time to emerge. They were not long in appearing. We should not underestimate how much more difficult managing the issue became once various high-level Ottawa insiders began to talk up the idea of abandoning the extradition process. It’s no wonder the Chinese were seriously confused – so were most Canadians.

Taking stock today, what’s most discouraging is our persistent failure to learn from the painful experiences of a difficult year, despite the fact that we’ve spent that time uncharacteristically focused on China. There has been a lot to take in. Along with the cruel detentions of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, we’ve witnessed almost daily examples of Chinese brutality in Xinjiang and repression in Hong Kong, and mounting evidence of Beijing’s interference around the world. Yet, Ottawa continues to treat China as an old friend with whom we’ve had a temporary falling out.

We did the right thing a year ago, and we’re still doing it when it comes to Ms. Meng, who is, unlike our detained Canadians, being treated fairly and with respect. And we’re still paying the price China now exacts from any country that values the rule of law over the rule of Beijing – a new reality whose implications, a full year later, continue to elude us.

Source: A year ago, Ottawa did the right thing by arresting Meng Wanzhou. We’re still paying the price: David Mulroney

Burton: Trudeau government at a crossroads in its dealings with China

Burton, McCuaig-Johnston, Mulroney, Glavin and others have been making these points for some time, and questioning the government’s response to date:

The new Trudeau government’s approach to China’s Communist Party regime is rife with dilemma. Support the business and political interests of the Laurentian élite, who are entwined in and conflicted by a Beijing engagement approach that eschews established norms of trade and diplomacy? Or adhere to Canadian middle-class values that make Canada the harmonious and tolerant society it is: decency, fairness, reciprocity, honesty, openness?

Canada’s policy on China was evidently too sensitive to handle during the recent election campaign; the Munk Centre’s scheduled foreign policy debate was cancelled after Justin Trudeau refused to appear.

But now it is new beginnings for a new government, time to reflect on the horrendous failures of our past engagement with China, time to do the necessary re-set in Canada’s national interest.

Against this desperate need for an open national debate, it is disappointing to see our government engaging in closed-door policy discussions led by Peter Harder (the government leader in the Senate), current and former senior officials of Global Affairs Canada, academics who favour engagement on Beijing’s terms, and business leaders with lucrative connections to Chinese Communist business networks closed to public scrutiny.

Now it is new beginnings for a new government, time to reflect on the horrendous failures of our past engagement with China, time to do the necessary re-set in Canada’s national interest.

On Nov. 19, the Public Policy Forum (lead partner: government of Canada) charged stakeholders in Canada-China relations $900 to access a one-day workshop and dinner in Ottawa, called “China and the Policy Implications of a new Cold War.” The pricey registration fee would be well beyond the budget of Canadian Tibetan, Uyghur or China human rights NGO activists, or Canadian media outlets. That would effectively mute voices who would like to know how Canada will address the cultural genocide of Turkic Muslims in China’s northwest, or the fate of the 300,000 Canadians in Hong Kong, or when Canada will take strong measures to convince China to release Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.

The PPF’s mandate is to “write a more sophisticated narrative for Canadians,” leading to “a more nuanced engagement” — evidently a mysterious doctrine best developed without wider participation.

The narrative that PPF is developing is that “the rise of China is bending the arc of history,” so Canada must “adjust rapidly to changing geopolitical realities arguably as profound as anything since the rise of the United States challenged the dominance of the British Empire in the late 19th century.” This rhetoric is certainly not based on sound comparative historiography, but it is in perfect harmony with that articulated by Chinese leader Xi Jinping. He demands that Canada join China’s “community of the common destiny of mankind” and support China’s rebuild of global trade infrastructure by participating in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and China’s “Belt and Road Initiative,” because as the U.S. declines, China will become the new global hegemon.

In other words, Canada should get with the program, because, as former Liberal cabinet stalwart Martin Cauchon said regarding Huawei’s expansion, “if you can’t beat them, join them.” But China does not have a record of trust in upholding international agreements. Once Huawei is installed, billions of dollars later, any Chinese commitment to allow Canadian monitoring of Huawei systems to ensure they are not being used to purloin data, or threaten Canadian critical infrastructure, is likely to be revoked. And there won’t be much we can do about it.

On Nov. 20, the day after the workshop, François-Philippe Champagne was appointed minister of Global Affairs, and Mary Ng was named minister of International Trade. Both are extensively on the record saying trade should be Canada’s priority for engaging China. What about concerns over China’s espionage and covert political influence activities in Canada, and Canadians’ alarm about engaging with a régime complicit in human rights violations against its own people, violating sovereignty in the South China Sea and using economic leverage to serve Beijing’s authoritarian political and strategic purposes? Such concerns must go by the wayside, because China has made clear it will not expand trade with Canada otherwise.

So now, the same policymakers who got it so very wrong on China in the past are setting Canada’s China agenda for the future. The question begs: What more does the Chinese Communist régime have to do to convince us that our “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” appeasement of China is actually disastrous to Canada’s domestic and global interests?

What we need is uncompromised, Canadian, level-headed good sense to be brought into play. Let’s hope that happens before it is too late.

Source: Burton: Trudeau government at a crossroads in its dealings with China

Suddenly, the Chinese Threat to Australia Seems Very Real

Australia has always been the cautionary tale for Canada and others, with comparable challenges:

A Chinese defector to Australia who detailed political interference by Beijing. A businessman found dead after telling the authorities about a Chinese plot to install him in Parliament. Suspicious men following critics of Beijing in major Australian cities.

For a country that just wants calm commerce with China — the propellant behind 28 years of steady growth — the revelations of the past week have delivered a jolt.

Fears of Chinese interference once seemed to hover indistinctly over Australia. Now, Beijing’s political ambitions, and the espionage operations that further them, suddenly feel local, concrete and ever-present.

“It’s become the inescapable issue,” said Hugh White, a former intelligence official who teaches strategic studies at the Australian National University. “We’ve underestimated how quickly China’s power has grown along with its ambition to use that power.”

Huge pro-India fake news network includes Canadian sites, links to Canadian think tanks

Of interest:

A huge international network of fake local news sites that push a pro-Indian government position internationally has a deep Canadian connection, CBC News has learned.

According to the EU DisinfoLab, a Brussels-based non-profit group whose goal is identifying disinformation targeting the European Union, the network includes at least 265 sites in more than 65 countries.

At least 12 of those sites pose as Canadian news outlets and use names that either mimic current media publications or old media outlets that have folded, such as The Toronto Evening Telegram. CBC has also found evidence of a further 16 sites designed to look like local Canadian news websites, all registered by the Srivastava Group.

Some of the sites have either been taken down in the last week, since some of the EU DisinfoLab’s findings have been reported, or never had content uploaded to them in the first place.

All of the sites are tied to the Srivastava Group, an Indian corporation run by Ankit Srivastava, a self-described entrepreneur based in New Delhi. CBC was able to determine using website data analysis tool DomainTools. Some of the websites were registered to a bungalow in Edmonton.

The network of sites publishes content that is critical of Pakistan.

News sites with Canadian names but little activity

The purported Canadian news sites run by the network have names like the Toronto Mail, the Quebec Telegraph and the Times of New Brunswick. Many borrow the names of defunct Canadian newspapers. In all cases, the “about” section claims that the websites are local Canadian media outlets.

Most of the Canadian websites in the network have generated very little activity on social media, garnering almost no likes and shares, according to social media analytics tool BuzzSumo. Unlike many fake news networks, the sites don’t seem to make money through advertising since they don’t carry ads.

Alexandre Alaphilippe, executive director of the EU DisinfoLab, notes that parts of this network have been active since 2010. “It’s a network that has been operating for a very long time on these questions, promoting India or denigrating Pakistan,” he said. “It’s not only fake media sites. They have think-tanks, NGOs and so on. It’s very organized. It shows that this is something that is planned.”

Controversial visit to Kashmir

The Srivastava Group was also linked to a controversial visit by right-wing members of European Parliament to Kashmir in late October, which included a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The visit to Kashmir took place even though access to the region is extremely restricted by the Indian government, and journalists and NGOs are barred. In August, the Indian government revoked part of the constitution granting the Jammu and Kashmir state special status, instituted a curfew and cut internet and phone connections. The area has been under lockdown for more than 100 days.

According to Julian Schofield, an associate professor at Concordia University in Montreal whose studies focus on South Asia, the visit might be a way for India to promote its handling of the situation in Kashmir and make it look better when compared to its main rival, Pakistan.

“Bringing the Europeans over is saying, ‘Look, we’re a functioning democracy, just like you, we have the same issues as you, and essentially, we’re liberal. We’re multi-ethnic, multi-identity, just like you, not like Pakistan. Come visit Kashmir, we’re doing our best,'” he said.

According to Indian media, that visit was financed and organized by two NGOs with connections to Srivastava: the International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies (IINS) and Women’s Economic and Social Think-Tank (WESTT).

IINS was founded by Srivastava and shares a physical New Delhi address with the Srivastava group. WESTT’s website was registered by M. Srivastava. The director of WESTT, Madi Sharma, is also described as the EU correspondent for the New Delhi Times — an obscure newspaper whose editor-in-chief is Ankit Srivastava.

Its website has 1.2 million followers on Facebook, but almost no interactions with its content, which is extremely unusual given that followers tend to interact with content, and suggests the followers may be fake. Sharma was reported by Indian media to have extended the invitation to the MPs to visit India, and accompanied those MPs during their time in Kashmir.

Several Indian journalists from fact-checking outlets contacted by CBC/Radio-Canada said they had never heard of the New Delhi Times before the controversy over the Kashmir visit erupted.

Schofield said that India’s rivalry with Pakistan is at the centre of its foreign policy and the visit was part of its propaganda effort. “It is viable as a technique against Pakistan. If Pakistan wasn’t there, India would dominate the sub-continent.”

Srivastava has also republished columns from Toronto Sun columnist Tarek Fatah, who describes the two as friends, and also has links to former Liberal MP Mario Silva; the IP address used to register the website of a think-tank that was chaired by Silva is the same as that of the Srivastava group, and the site is hosted on a server administered by Srivastava.

CBC News reached out to Srivastava at multiple phone numbers, and in all cases, the person who answered the phone referred inquiries to an email address. Srivastava did not respond to multiple email inquiries.

Over the past week, Twitter has suspended several accounts linked to the network, including the accounts for EP Today, a purported news magazine centred on the European Parliament, and 4news Agency, a newswire service which served to boost the network’s content. Both these sites were used to push pro-India news items.

Since EU DisinfoLab’s report, all of the articles were also removed from EP Today. All that remains on the site is an apology by the owners for publishing articles from the Russian outlet RT.

Think tank website hosted by Srivastava

One of the Canadians linked to Ankit Srivastava is former Liberal MP Mario Silva.

Silva chaired a group called IFFRAS, the International Forum for Rights and Security, which describes itself as a “non-profit international think-tank” with headquarters in Toronto, Brussels, Geneva and Washington. Silva was the Liberal member of Parliament for the downtown Toronto riding of Davenport from 2004 to 2011, and is currently a distinguished visiting professor at Toronto’s Ryerson University and a board member at Toronto Hydro.

Using DomainTools, CBC found that the website shares the same IP address as the Srivastava Group and EP Today, and that website for the think tank is hosted on Srivastava’s server. The email address used to register the server is a Hotmail address for Srivastava.

Silva has given interviews to Times of Geneva, the New Delhi Times and 4News Agency, some of which were critical of Pakistan.

A YouTube video shows Silva sitting next to Fatah as Fatah gives a talk on Balochistan in Geneva in March of 2014.

A number listed on the website is not in service, and another number used by Silva previously in his registration of the site was also not in service.

When contacted by email, Silva said he does not “condone, participate in or support any organization that promotes inaccurate or misleading information and would never be part of any group that acts in such a manner.”

Silva said that IFFRAS, the think-tank, has been inactive for a number of years, and his involvement “was limited solely to advocacy for human rights in a broad sense, fully consistent with my long-standing commitment to the promotion of human rights and equality for all persons across the world.”

Silva further added he was unaware of any connections between Srivastava and the websites and newspapers that CBC had inquired about, and that he “emphatically” does not have “any connection with any group or organization you have referenced.”

Toronto writer’s columns reprinted on site

In an interview with CBC News, Fatah said that he was aware his columns were being republished in the New Delhi Times and said Srivastava paid him a small fee for it, though he declined to specify how much.

“Mr. Fatah is a freelance opinion columnist. Freelancers can generally resell their work after its publication in the Sun to non-competing markets, subject to the terms of their agreements with us,” said Phyllise Gelfand, the vice-president of communications for Postmedia, in an email.

Fatah was also listed as the executive director of an NGO called Baluchistan (sic) House, described as a think-tank focusing on the Balochistan province of Pakistan. The region has seen ongoing insurgencies against the Pakistani government by Baloch groups seeking independence.

The now-defunct Baluchistan House website was registered by Ankit Srivastava, as were other sites seemingly built for Fatah, such as and, which never published any content.

According to Fatah, the What the Fatah project is a proposed video series featuring him that he’s working on with Srivastava, while the Baluchistan House website registration may have come from an exiled Baloch leader living in London.

“I was merely involved and it never really took off, the Baluchistan House forum,” he said.

Fatah’s Baluchistan House organized a panel in 2017 in Geneva, where he appeared alongside Polish MEP Ryszard Czarnecki  to discuss Balochistan’s economic situation. Czarnecki, a conservative politician critical of Pakistan and supportive of India, was amongst the MEPs who visited Kashmir in October.

Fatah said he was not involved with the visit and did not help facilitate it. He also said that while he had met Czarnecki a few times in UN meetings, he didn’t speak or meet with Czarnecki outside of that.

Fatah said he was not aware that Srivastava was running a network of fake news sites.

“Why would he do that?” said Fatah, adding it must be “some ridiculous Indian bureaucrat’s idea of propaganda.”

Concordia’s Schofield said the network’s promotion of Baloch interests clearly marks it as serving the Indian government’s interests. He says that India has been supporting Balochistan independence as a way to put pressure on Pakistan.

“This is definitely political. It’s basically an open secret that the Indians have been helping the Baloch,” he said. “If [Ankit Srivastava] is doing this type of thing, that’s what you’d call a siren alert,” that he’s in line with the government’s policies.

Fatah said he wasn’t worried about his columns being used to promote pro-India views.

“Oh, I am unashamedly pro-India. If somebody uses my writing to be pro-India, hallelujah. India is the only place that will save this universe. You can quote me on that,” he said.

Source: Huge pro-India fake news network includes Canadian sites, links to Canadian think tanks