ICYMI: Hongkongers are coming to Canada by the thousands. Some fear they won’t be able to stay

Of note. Strong case for flexibility:

It was through pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019 that the couple met and eventually started their life together.

Now, they fear they’ll be imprisoned if they return.

The two have been living in Ontario for more than a year, thanks to an open work permit program that Canada started last year, specifically for Hong Kong residents.

But with the program needing to be renewed in February, the pair say they’re worried there is no pathway for them and others in their situation to remain in Canada once their work permit expires in 2024.

They’re hoping the Canadian government will extend their stay.

“We are lucky we were not both arrested,” said the 28-year-old woman of their time in Hong Kong. The couple requested anonymity due to concerns about their safety should they have to return.

“We were marked by the Hong Kong police already,” she said, explaining the police “marked” their identifications when they were caught putting up pro-democracy posters once.

Legislators are among those joining the chorus now asking the federal government to extend and expand the program in question. According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, about 12,800 people had been granted work permits through the program as of June 30.

The pressure comes as increasing numbers of Hongkongers are looking to get out of that city due to concerns about the government’s curtailing of civil liberties — with Canada being one of the favoured destinations.

Hong Kong residents have used the open-work permit to get out of the city as the local government enacts the will of the Chinese Communist Party by arresting pro-democracy activists.

Since the National Security Law was imposed by Beijing in 2020, hundreds of democracy activists have been arrested. Thousands of residents have left Hong Kong, heading to a variety of destinations, including the United Kingdom and Australia.

Figures provided by IRCC show a massive increase in the number of people applying to come to Canada via various streams, including study permits and work permits, since Beijing’s grip began tightening on Hong Kong.

From 2016 to 2021, applications ballooned from almost 6,000 to more than 29,000a year. As of June of this year, 18,000 applications had been received.

Canada’s work permit offered some Hong Kong residents a “lifeline.”

The couple that spoke to the Star applied for the program the day after they were married. Only one of them was eligible thanks to a job offer from an Ontario boutique. It was the only way they could both leave Hong Kong quickly and safely, they say, and they arrived in Canada in July 2021.

Other streams of the program aren’t an option for them now.

The open work permit requires the applicant to have graduated from post-secondary within five years of applying. The woman cannot apply for a stream that would give her a path to permanent residency because that five-year period has subsequently passed for her. Her husband did not attend a post-secondary institution.

“We are eligible for the work permit, but we are not eligible for the permanent residence,” the woman said, “this is kind of ironic.”

Advocates for Hong Kong democracy activists say Canada should extend current permits and expand the program so that more potential targets of the Hong Kong authorities can find refuge in Canada.

Katherine Leung of Hong Kong Watch says she is concerned there doesn’t seem to be a plan in place for when the program expires in February of next year.

“If it’s not extended, the scheme ends,” Leung said.

Meanwhile, there are still many hoping to get out of Hong Kong, and the program’s requirements are too narrow, particularly the requirement to have graduated within five years, critics say.

Though other countries have programs of their own meant to help Hongkongers, Leung said many residents of the city have no program they can access to leave.

“A lot of those facing charges for protest-related offences do not qualify for the scheme,” she said. “Often these are normal people who have contributed a lot to the pro-democracy movement.”

Last month, 19 MPs and senators signed a letter asking Ottawa to expand the open work permit. The letter also suggested adding a “human rights defender” category to the scheme. It urged giving those using the program access to the same mental health and career training as other refugees.

Toronto-area Liberal MP John McKay signed the letter.

“These folks could use a few visa breaks,” McKay said. “These people have been tremendous assets to the country.”

He said under the current environment it’s hard to imagine the Canadian government won’t act to help those seeking refuge through the program.

In a response to whether the program will be expanded, IRCC told the Star it is monitoring the situation.

Also monitoring the situation is the young couple who sacrificed the life they knew to fight the rise of authoritarianism in Hong Kong.

Relieved and grateful to have been granted a lifeline to Canada, they say they now only want to stay.

“We are not planning to go back anymore,” the woman said. “We don’t want to be in prison.”

Source: Hongkongers are coming to Canada by the thousands. Some fear they won’t be able to stay

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

Valid questions regarding another policy and delivery failure:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Douglas Todd: SFU prof targeted by China for groundbreaking Uyghur research

Not surprising but not acceptable:
SFU professor Darren Byler has been frequently attacked by China’s state media, which accuses him of being an agent of the U.S. government. Something he denies.
During four groundbreaking expeditions into China, the latest in 2018, Byler has witnessed many colleagues and research subjects disappear into the mass “re-education” camps and forced labour factories endured by more than 1.5 million Uyghur Muslims.

The author of In the Camps: Life in China’s High-Tech Penal Colony, was interviewed during a downtown Vancouver conference about the clampdown in Xinjiang. It was attended by 60 people, including Uyghur Canadians, international students from China, Muslim academics and activists.

Participants at the Simon Fraser University event required Postmedia’s commitment to protect their identities, so their families would not be harassed or threatened by police in China. There are about 400 ethnic Uyghurs in Metro Vancouver, the largest group of any Canadian city.

China’s authoritarian leaders are engaged in a planetary campaign to challenge and intimidate anyone who points to the incarceration, mass surveillance and draconian clampdown of the Uyghurs, which the Canadian government has called a “genocide.”

The Global Times, a tabloid newspaper arm of the Chinese Communist Party, has accused Byler of being an “anti-China figure” who makes “fabricated” allegations about “genocide and crimes against humanity” in the Xinjiang region of western China, which is inhabited by about 11 million Uyghur Muslims. The professor is sure China’s agents have attended his classes.

Byler has been with Uyghur people on the streets of China when police have stopped them, taken their mobile phones and demanded, “What is the password for your phone?” A specialist in high-tech surveillance, he says China uses 9,000 police surveillance hubs to routinely search personal data for evidence of resistance and what they consider a dangerous commitment to Islam.

Facial recognition technology is widely used in Xinjiang. Byler has first-hand knowledge of Uyghur students who have studied in North America being detained in China after omnipresent cameras found them walking outside their confinement. Families are often broken up when a Uyghur whom authorities deem suspicious is sent to a work camp, many of which produce textile goods for the West. The U.S. and Canada have laws banning such goods, but many argue they’re ineffective.

A prolific author and widely cited scholar, Byler, 40, is among the Western researchers who argue that China’s Han ethnic majority has in the past decade been escalating a colonialistic internal effort to smear the Uyghur people and systematically erase their Indigenous culture and faith. Chinese authorities often label the Uyghurs as “separatists” and “terrorists,” as well as lazy and slow.

One frequent tactic of the state-controlled Global Times is to try to silence Canadian criticism of the treatment of Uyghurs by condemning this country’s residential-school system for Indigenous children, which the federal government began in 1881 and for the most part ended by the 1970s.

This month, The Global Times enthusiastically reported on Pope Francisrecently referring to Canada’s attempt to assimilate First Nations through residential schools as “a genocide,” even while the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has referred to it as “cultural genocide.”

The Global Times article cited how Canada’s Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls also called it a “genocide,” while reporting that last year “more than 1,100 unmarked graves have been discovered at former residential school sites.” Canadian media outlets now largely refer to them as “suspected” graves.

The Global Times and China’s diplomats are making a clear attempt to claim, “You in the West have no right to criticize us, because look what you did to Indigenous people,” Byler said. “They’re kind of saying, ‘You did it. So we are doing it, too.’”

While Byler believes Canada’s residential-school system was a colonialistic attempt at assimilation, he notes the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has formalized a decades-long process of restitution in Canada, unlike in Australia and the U.S. And definitely unlike 21st-century China.

During the several years that Byler, a German American who is now a permanent resident of Canada, has spent living among Uyghur people in Xinjiang, he came to realize how outward-looking and sophisticated they were before China accelerated efforts to wipe out their culture.

One of many of his research papers that is drawing global attention explores how Uyghurs had been keenly taking courses from 2004 to 2014 in the English language, with students developing a special interest in novels about totalitarianism, like Animal Farm and 1984 by George Orwell.

Han Chinese prejudices often portray Uyghurs as “backward,” so the language students especially devoured books about Black Americans like Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Barack Obama. The paper, co-written with an unnamed Stanford professor, reveals the Uyghur valued learning about a society in which members of a minority could hold power.

But the English-language schools were shut, and teachers Byler knew were detained, after a 2014 visit by President Xi Jinping.

Even though most attendees at the SFU conference demanded anonymity, Byler introduced one local Uyghur who was willing to be interviewed because he has already gone public as an activist. Now a high-school science teacher in Surrey, Kabir Qurban came to Canada with his family from Afghanistan as a refugee.

Since he has become a high-profile activist in Canada, including with his own websites, Qurban said that sometimes he has attended Uyghur events, such as weddings, where attendees have asked that he not sit at the same table with them.

In this era of facial recognition technology, the Uyghur Canadians fear Chinese authorities could catch them together in a photo with the staunch critic of China. That could easily lead to a brother, sister, mother or father back in Xinjiang getting harassed by police. Or worse.

“It’s unfortunate,” Qurban said, “but I have to respect their stance.”

Source: Douglas Todd: SFU prof targeted by China for groundbreaking Uyghur research

To reverse brain drain, China should be more flexible on dual citizenship

Interesting arguments but likely overstates the importance of dual citizenship as a factor in facilitating a return of former Chinese nationals to China, particularly given Chinese government general repression (not limited to Uyghurs and Hong Kong) and control (e.g., COVID lockdowns):

Citizenship has become a sensitive topic in China. Every so often, you’ll see lists in the Chinese media – of film stars who hold foreign passports, or billionaires who made money in China but now hold foreign passports. On the Chinese internet, some of these individuals get labelled as unpatriotic, or worse.

One of netizens’ latest targets is Harvard physics professor Xi Yin, a China-born prodigy who has been quoted as saying he has no plans to return to his native country at present. A US citizen now, Yin is also married to an American woman.

China does not allow dual citizenship. The line of reasoning seems to be that the authorities don’t want to create a group of people who enjoy too much privilege, or potentially allow criminals to evade punishment. Critics say it is a way of ensuring citizens’ loyalty or maintaining a monoculture.

But much of the rest of the world has moved on, with more countries embracing dual citizenship against the backdrop of globalisation. Back in the 1960s, only one-third of countries allowed dual citizenship. Today, 75 per cent do.

Perhaps China should follow suit. It would help reverse the brain drain from the country.

Around the time Deng Xiaoping launched the reform and opening up policy, students were sent abroad to study, in countries including the US, Canada and the UK. This trend did not always pay off. In 2007, China Daily reported that, between 1978 and 2006, 1.06 million Chinese went overseas for studies and more than 70 per cent chose not to return. At that time, China probably suffered the most severe brain drain in the world.

To tackle the problem, Beijing has increased investment in higher education, and research and development. It introduced programmes such as the Thousand Talents Planto lure back leading Chinese talent. Under the plan “sea turtles”, or returnees from overseas – in Chinese, the two terms are homonyms – may receive a one-time bonus of 1 million yuan (US$148,400). However, the programme has reportedly delivered mixed results. Not nearly enough sea turtles swim home.

As China grew rich, it became common practice among affluent families to send children abroad for further education. Between 2015 and 2019, 80 per cent of these students did return. Yet, China is still losing first-rate talent. In recent years, a reported 80 per cent of Chinese PhD students in the US have been reluctant to return.

Many developing countries in the world lose talent to the US, but China probably suffers more, especially in the realm of hi-tech. Those bright Chinese minds working at the cutting edge of American technology might also be hampering China’s own tech ambitions.

Indeed, China’s hope of dominating artificial intelligence may be threatened by the brain drain. According to a study conducted by MacroPolo, a think tank run by the Paulson Institute, Chinese researchers accounted for a quarter of the authors whose papers were accepted by a prestigious AI conference in 2019.

However, three-quarters of the Chinese authors were working outside China, and 85 per cent of those were working in the US, at tech giants such as Google or universities like UCLA.

Source: To reverse brain drain, China should be more flexible on dual citizenship

Douglas Todd: Why China’s woes matter to Canada

While China’s numbers have largely recovered to pre-pandemic levels, they have declined as a share of total immigration, compared to India in particular. And not convinced that attracting the “ultra-rich” will benefit Canada and Canadians (part from Realtors, luxury car dealerships etc):

China is in turmoil.

The once-roaring housing market of the world’s second-largest economy is collapsing.The regime’s harsh zero-COVID restrictions are causing bitterness and anger.

Beijing’s stepped-up quest for “common prosperity” has many worried their savings and assets aren’t being treated as actually theirs — and could be confiscated by Communist party rulers in the name of equality.

More people, especially the rich, want to escape.

In the past 30 years, Canada has been one of the top destinations for people from China seeking a financial haven and more stable lifestyle. China has long been Canada’s second-largest source country, after India, for new immigrants.

And the country’s recent outbreaks of both financial and social chaos are igniting more desire to get out. A global investment migration consultancy, Henley & Partners, estimates 10,000 to 13,000 ultra-wealthy residents of China are seeking to pull $48 billion out of the country this year.

Canada is a big draw. The Migration Policy Institute found two years ago that Canada was the third most-popular choice for Mainland’s China’s migrants. That was before this summer, when China’s real-estate sales dived by 59 per cent compared to 12 months earlier.

Now, the 2022 Hurun Report, which surveys the desires of high-net-worth Chinese, has found their No. 1 choice for a country to move to is Canada.

But there’s a problem. The people of China, population 1.4 billion, face increasingly strict homegrown barriers to starting a new life abroad.

The Hurun Report, which each year measures the desires of rich people from China, found that this year that Canada had risen to become their No. 1 destination for immigration. (Source: 2022 Hurun Report)
The Hurun Report, which each year measures the desires of rich people from China, found that this year that Canada had risen to become their No. 1 destination for immigration. (Source: 2022 Hurun Report)

That’s even while there is an emerging term for the exit-minded phenomenon in China — “run-ology.” It’s used widely online to capture both the desire to leave the country and tips on how to do it.

While many Chinese are no doubt happy to stay in their country of birth, many are seeking another shore because of intense frustration over the country’s COVID-19 restrictions.

And that’s not all. A deeply felt mistrust of Chinese leaders came to the fore his month when video emerged of tanks blocking the entrances to some banks in China, ostensibly to stop people from withdrawing their money.

While debate ensued between official Chinese media and Western news outlets over the exact purpose of the tanks, few disputed that China’s police have crushed mass demonstrations after depositors’ funds were frozen as banks have been investigated for fraud.

The backdrop to the bank-savings anxiety has been President Xi Jinping’s stepped-up efforts to develop a patriotic “common prosperity.” It’s already lead him to crack down hard on, among others, the country’s more than 600 billionaires.

One of many notorious cases centres on billionaire Xiao Jianhua, a Canadian passport holder who disappeared after being abducted in Hong Kong five years ago. He is now apparently facing a secret trial in China

China doesn’t recognize that Canada has any diplomatic influence in regard to Xiao. Even though Xiao gave up his Chinese passport because China does not allow dual citizenship, China is still treating him, roughly, as one of its own.

In a related move, Beijing has announced strict 2022 curbs on all “non-essential” overseas travel, purportedly because of COVID. In the face of a spike in outbound trips, leaders have cut the number of travel passports and visas it will issue to a fraction of previous levels.

It’s also harder to get money out of the country.Canadian legal specialist David Lesperance, who specializes in migration for the rich, says he’s receiving three times as many requests from China that he had last year. And Jenga, a firm that handles international money transfers, reports it has seen demand from China double in 12 months.

That’s especially worrying for China in light of its troubled economy. The mammoth speculative bubble that was China’s real estate market, which accounts for an incredible 30 per cent of the nation’s GDP, has been bursting.

China’s Evergrande, the world’s most indebted real-estate developer, is on the verge of bankruptcy. Construction on its new residential towers has halted. China’s housing crisis has wiped a trillion dollars off the value of the sector.

The U.S. Federal Reserve has expressed concern the dramatic downturn in China’s housing market will spillover into Western economies, as many Chinese citizens’ debt grows and an economically weakened China is forced to retrench. The vacancy rate in major Chinese cities is now 15 to 35 per cent, according to the journal Foreign Policy.

Many Chinese nationals who have held onto their assets and wealth are looking elsewhere to invest, even as their leaders make it a challenge. China is talking tougher about enforcing its foreign exchange controls, which allows citizens to send offshore only US$50,000 a year.

But Canadian mortgage broker Ron Butler is among those who share the “growing belief that more capital from China will flow out to other countries’ real estate.”

Yes, we are hearing capital controls are running hot in China. But we know that a workaround is always found and tightness eventually slackens.”

In addition, people from China who obtain foreign residency or citizenship can move money out of their country more easily. Immigration lawyers and consultants say that’s a prime reason for the attractiveness of Canada, which already has 1.8 million people of Chinese ancestry, about half of whom are from China, mostly living in greater Toronto and Metro Vancouver.

Ottawa has long generally welcomed outside money, which typically goes into real estate rather than other businesses. B.C., through its foreign-buyers tax, beneficial ownership registry and speculation tax, is now one of the only provinces trying to monitor such offshore wealth.

Last year, Canada approved 31,005 individuals from the People’s Republic of China as permanent residents. While by no means are all well-off enough to immediately buy a dwelling, that was a jump from 16,525 migrants in the pandemic year of 2020. It was similar to 2019. The pace of immigration from China in the first half of 2022 appears more rapid than ever.

Meanwhile, others from China who want to put money into Canadian real estate, but don’t want to give up their Chinese citizenship, have been opting for Canada’s popular 10-year multiple-entry visas, which permits them to live here six months at a time. Although the Immigration Department didn’t provide the latest figures, Canada had previously issued more than three million 10-year visas to Chinese nationals.

Whichever way you look at it, recent developments confirm that what happens in China matters to Canada.

Source: Douglas Todd: Why China’s woes matter to Canada

B.C. scholar with expired Chinese passport says renewing it could put personal safety at risk

Reasonable assessment of risk:

A prominent Chinese human rights scholar working in Vancouver says her career and personal safety are at risk because of an expired passport and delays in Canada’s immigration system.

Guldana Salimjan is a postdoctoral fellow at Simon Fraser University, who also directs the University of British Columbia’s Xinjiang Documentation Project, a federally-funded program documenting the internment of ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang region. The project has been referenced during debates in Parliament.

Salimjan has a job pending at Indiana University in the U.S. — but no paperwork to cross the Canada-U.S. border.

Source: B.C. scholar with expired Chinese passport says renewing it could put personal safety at risk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beijing may have tried to discourage Canadians from voting Conservative: federal unit

Not surprising:

A federal research unit detected what might be a Chinese Communist Party information operation that aimed to discourage Canadians of Chinese heritage from voting for the Conservatives in the last federal election.

The Sept. 13, 2021, analysis by Rapid Response Mechanism Canada, which tracks foreign interference, says researchers observed Communist Party media accounts on Chinese social media platform Douyin widely sharing a narrative that the Conservatives would all but sever diplomatic relations with Beijing.

The report, obtained by The Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act, was prepared just a week before Canadians went to the polls.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals emerged from the Sept. 20 national ballot with a renewed minority mandate, while the Conservatives, led by Erin O’Toole, formed the official Opposition.

O’Toole, who is no longer leader, claimed on a podcast recorded this month that the Conservatives lost eight or nine seats to foreign interference from China.

Rapid Response Mechanism Canada, based at Global Affairs Canada, produces open data analysis to chart trends, strategies and tactics in foreign interference.

Its work supports the G7 RRM, an initiative to strengthen co-ordination to identify and respond to threats to the major industrial democracies.

The analysis of messaging about the Conservative party was part of RRM Canada’s effort to monitor the digital information environment for signs of foreign state-sponsored information manipulation in the general election.

Conservative MP Michael Chong, the party’s foreign affairs critic, said in an interview the analysis is “another piece of evidence that the Communist leadership in Beijing interfered in the last general election by spreading disinformation.”

RRM Canada says it manually reviewed Chinese social media platforms including WeChat, Douyin, Weibo, Xigua and Bilibili, and conducted open-source forensic digital analysis using website archives, social listening tools, and cross-platform social media ranking tools.

The analysts first noticed the narrative about the Conservatives in two articles published Sept. 8 by the Global Times, a state-owned media tabloid.

RRM Canada believes the Global Times coverage was prompted by a story in the Ottawa-based Hill Times newspaper that examined Canadian parties’ positions on Canada-China relations. The analysis says it is likely that the Global Times was the first Chinese publication to pick up on the Ottawa publication’s content, with its two articles getting over 100,000 page views apiece.

RRM Canada notes the timing coincided with the first federal leaders’ debate and increasingly close poll numbers. Similar pieces published by major Canadian media outlets earlier in September, as well as the Conservative party platform released in August, elicited no response from state-controlled media in China, the analysis says.

Several popular Canada-focused WeChat news accounts began engaging with the Global Times narrative on Sept. 9, copying the content and form without crediting the publication, “obscuring the narrative’s point of origin,” the analysts found.

Accounts also added commentary about the Tories to the articles, such as “Chinese are frightened by the platform,” and questioned whether “Chinese compatriots should support the Conservatives if they use this rhetoric.”

“Unless otherwise credited, WeChat users would not know that the narrative about the Conservatives and O’Toole originated from the Global Times and would assume the articles were original reporting from the Canadian WeChat accounts.”

Many WeChat news accounts that serve Canadians are registered to people in China and despite being well-established news sources, “some may have unclear links” to Chinese Communist Party media groups, the analysis says.

The researchers were “unable to determine whether there is co-ordination between the CCP media that originally promoted the narrative and the popular WeChat news accounts that service Chinese-speaking Canadians that are now amplifying the narrative,” the Sept. 13 analysis cautions.

“RRM Canada is also unable to determine whether there was inauthentic activity that boosted user engagement with the narrative as Chinese social media platforms are completely non-transparent.”

However, Communist Party media accounts on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, published videos that repeated a Sept. 8 Global Times headline, the analysis says. For instance, the Douyin account of Xinhua, China’s state press agency, shared a video saying the Conservative platform mentions China “31 times” and that an “expert” says the party “almost wants to break diplomatic relations with China.”

The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa did not respond to a request for comment on the RRM Canada analysis.

Among the Conservative platform planks in the election campaign were promises to stand up to Beijing on human rights issues, diversify supply chains to move them away from China, adopt a presumption against allowing Beijing’s state-owned entities to take over Canadian companies, and work toward less global reliance on critical minerals from China.

Chong says it’s clear that proxies were spreading disinformation on behalf of Beijing in the federal election.

“It’s hard to measure whether that was the reason for the loss of some Conservative MPs. But I think we can safely say that it was a contributing factor.”

If Beijing comes to the same conclusion, China “may very well be emboldened to do something much bigger in a future federal election, undermining our democratic process,” Chong said.

Under a federal protocol, there would be a public announcement if a panel of senior bureaucrats determined that an incident — or an accumulation of incidents — threatened Canada’s ability to have a free and fair election. There was no such announcement last year.

At a House of Commons committee meeting early this month, Bill Blair, public safety minister during the election campaign, said while “we’ve all heard anecdotes and various opinions,” he had not directly received “any information from our intelligence services” that provided evidence of foreign interference in the campaign.

Deputy minister Rob Stewart told the meeting there were, “as you would expect,” activities on social media that would constitute disinformation and attempts to influence votes. “There was no threat to the overall integrity of the election.”

The Canadian Election Misinformation Project, which brought together several academic researchers, found Chinese officials and state media commented on the election with an apparent aim to convince Canadians of Chinese origin to vote against the Conservative party in 2021.

“Misleading information and information critical of certain candidates circulated on Chinese-language social media platforms. However, we find no evidence that Chinese interference had a significant impact on the overall election.”

The Conservatives “could have done a better job” of countering such messaging, Chong said. “Clearly we didn’t, and that’s a lesson learned.”

Even so, the federal government needs to actively counter foreign disinformation between election campaigns, Chong said. During campaigns, the government should make analyses from the Rapid Response Mechanism immediately available to inform the public, he added.

Fen Hampson, a professor of international affairs at Carleton University who closely watches China, agrees that more transparency would be beneficial.

He argues for broadening the analytical process, perhaps through creation of a centre that includes non-governmental players, gathers information from various sources and regularly publishes reports about apparent foreign interference.

“That takes it out of the domestic political arena, which is always going to be highly charged.”

Source: Beijing may have tried to discourage Canadians from voting Conservative: federal unit

China tightens restrictions and bars scholars from international conferences

Further restrictions of note:

The international conference was supposed to gather some of the most promising and most established Asia studies scholars from across the world in lush Honolulu.

Instead, at least five Chinese scholars based in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) were prevented from attending virtual events via Zoom, according to four people with direct knowledge of the matter.

They said Chinese security officers and education officials directly intervened, citing education regulations published during a global coronavirus pandemic which require all Chinese scholars to receive university permission to attend any international event in-person or online.

“After years of encouraging and funding PRC scholars to participate internationally, the intensifying controls of recent years are now full-scale, and academic work, at least on China, is to be quarantined from the world,” saidJames Millward, a history professor at Georgetown University who attended the conference. “The doors have slammed shut fast.”

The conference, which ended last weekend, was an annual gathering organized by the Association for Asian Studies (AAS), one of the largest membership-based organizations in the field. For emerging scholars as well as more senior academics, the conference is an opportunity to network and to hear the latest research on Asian countries across a variety of disciplines.

Because of the ongoing COVID pandemic, AAS decided this year to hold a mix of in-person events and online-only panels.

In one case, a group of police officers visited the home of a scholar in China after they had presented their research paper to an online Zoom panel earlier in the week, questioning the scholar for hours, in part because they considered the title of the paper “incorrect.”

“It was deeply frightening,” said one academic who attended the panel but requested anonymity to protect the identity of the scholar involved.

NPR reviewed the paper but is not publishing its title or subject to protect the identity of the writer. The paper did not touch on subjects which Chinese authorities normally consider sensitive, such as human rights, Tibet, Xinjiang or Hong Kong.

Chinese scholars on a separate virtual panel were also told by Chinese university administrators to cancel their presentations. Eventually, they emailed the other attendees to withdraw from the panel due to “medical reasons” but hoped to partake in AAS events again “in less sensitive times,” according to two people with direct knowledge of the incident.

“Topics that have seemingly been considered nonpolitical are now being yanked or deemed not permissible to be exchanging with international colleagues,” said another academic who attended the panel who also did not want to be named so as not to identify the Chinese scholars impacted.

Strict COVID prevention policies had already stymied the volume of intellectual exchanges between the PRC and the rest of the world. Those who study China have found themselves isolated by border closures that have made travel to and from China nearly impossible, rendering archives and field sites in China inaccessible for the last two years and counting.

Since 2016, China’s education ministry has required its academics to seek university approval for all overseas trips and collaborations. In September 2020, universities began applying these rules for online events held by international organizations, as well, though such rules had not been extensively enforced until now.

Academics say these controls will further deplete the already-sparse exchanges between China and the rest of the world while hobbling the careers of young Chinese scholars.

“We have already been anxious, because for those of us in modern China studies, it’s been two years with no end in sight about when we might be able to return to the archives,” said a third academic who went to the AAS conference. “You keep thinking maybe things will get better, so after the [Winter] Olympics, after [October’s Chinese Communist] Party Congress, there will be a loosening of restrictions, but unfortunately it continues to worsen.”

The AAS said it was aware some PRC-based scholars were prevented from attending and now is trying to ascertain exactly how many scholars were impacted. “The AAS firmly supports the right of scholars worldwide to take part in the free exchange of ideas and research through conferences and other forms of academic cooperation,” the association said in a statement posted on its website Wednesday.

AAS has previously come under heightened scrutiny within China. In March 2021, the Chinese Foreign Ministry sanctioned a member of one of AAS’ governing councils because of her research examining Chinese state policy in the region of Xinjiang, where authorities had detained hundreds of thousands of mostly ethnic Uyghurs. The academic, Joanne Smith Finley, had organized two panels on Xinjiang for the annual AAS conference just days earlier.

Source: China tightens restrictions and bars scholars from international conferences

Organization of Islamic Cooperation Accused of Ignoring Uyghur Muslims in China

Indeed. Much easier to other countries than China despite the ongoing oppression and indeed genocide of Uyghur Muslims:

A U.S. declaration that China has committed genocide and crimes against humanity against its mainly Muslim minority in western Xinjiang province appears to have had little impact on the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which this week honored Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a high-level forum.

Invited by host Pakistan, Wang attended the 48th session of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers in Islamabad as a special guest and spoke at the summit opening. He followed up Thursday with a surprise visit to Afghanistan, whose Taliban-led interim government is eager for Chinese investment and support.

The confluence of events was distressing to the Campaign for Uyghurs, a Washington-based rights group, which condemned both Wang’s attendance at the summit and OIC’s silence on China’s treatment of its Uyghur minority, including mass incarceration in so-called reeducation camps.

“It was appalling to see that Pakistan invited Wang Yi as a ‘guest of honor,’ while Uyghur Muslims do not have the right to identify as Muslims or practice Islam,” Campaign for Uyghurs said on its website.

According to Hasan Askari, an international affairs analyst, Pakistan’s invitation to the Chinese foreign minister at the OIC summit as an observer is part of an OIC tradition that allows the host country to invite high level diplomats from non-member OIC countries.

The U.S. accused China of genocide and crimes against humanity in the Muslim majority Xinjiang region in western China, including forced labor, sterilization of Muslim women and arbitrary detention of more than 1 million Uyghur Muslims in internment camps.

Beijing denies the allegations and says people of all ethnic groups live happily in Xinjiang.

The OIC summit addressed the plight of Rohingya Muslims as well as Muslims in Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere, but mostly ignored the Uyghur genocide in China, the Campaign for Uyghurs said.

Only Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu brought it up.

“In China, Uyghurs and other Muslims have difficulties protecting their religious rights and cultural identity,” Cavusoglu said at the OIC meeting. “Is it right to ignore the situation of the Uyghurs?”

Turkish politicians are usually the most outspoken defenders of Uyghur rights among Muslim politicians, said Robert Bianchi, professor of international law at the University of Chicago, because of their ethnic and cultural ties throughout Central Asia.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party “is particularly sensitive to demands from right-wing nationalists who are junior partners in his governing coalition,” Bianchi said. “He can’t survive without their support, so he often agrees to accept more Uyghur refugees and to speak out against Chinese repression.”

At the summit, Wang said that his country pledged to provide 300 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Islamic countries.

According to Abdulhakim Idris, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Uyghur Studies, many Muslim-majority countries receive billions of dollars from China in the name of financial investment.

“By receiving billions of dollars from China, these countries are not only forced to remain quiet on the genocidal atrocities against Uyghur Muslims in East Turkistan but also commanded from Beijing to do whatever the PRC wants,” Idris told VOA, calling Xinjiang by the Uyghurs’ preferred name of East Turkistan.

Source: Organization of Islamic Cooperation Accused of Ignoring Uyghur Muslims in China