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

Indeed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harris: The future of malicious artificial intelligence applications is here

More on some of the more fundamental risks of AI:

The year is 2016. Under close scrutiny by CCTV cameras, 400 contractors are working around the clock in a Russian state-owned facility. Many are experts in American culture, tasked with writing posts and memes on Western social media to influence the upcoming U.S. Presidential election. The multimillion dollar operation would reach 120 million people through Facebook alone. 

Six years later, the impact of this Russian info op is still being felt. The techniques it pioneered continue to be used against democracies around the world, as Russia’s “troll factory” — the Russian internet Research Agency — continues to fuel online radicalization and extremism. Thanks in no small part to their efforts, our world has become hyper-polar, increasingly divided into parallel realities by cherry-picked facts, falsehoods, and conspiracy theories.

But if making sense of reality seems like a challenge today, it will be all but impossible tomorrow. For the past two years, a quiet revolution has been brewing in AI — and despite some positive consequences, it’s also poised to hand authoritarian regimes unprecedented new ways to spread misinformation across the globe at an almost inconceivable scale.

In 2020, AI researchers created a text generation system called GPT-3. GPT-3 can produce text that’s indistinguishable from human writing — including viral articles, tweets, and other social media posts. GPT-3 was one of the most significant breakthroughs in the history of AI: it offered a simple recipe that AI researchers could follow to radically accelerate AI progress, and build much more capable, humanlike systems. 

But it also opened a Pandora’s box of malicious AI applications. 

Text-generating AIs — or “language models” — can now be used to massively augment online influence campaigns. They can craft complex and compelling arguments, and be leveraged to create automated bot armies and convincing fake news articles. 

This isn’t a distant future concern: it’s happening already. As early as 2020, Chinese efforts to interfere with Taiwan’s national election involved “the instant distribution of artificial-intelligence-generated fake news to social media platforms.”

But the 2020 AI breakthrough is now being harnessed for more than just text. New image-generation systems, able to create photorealistic pictures based on any text prompt, have become reality this year for the first time. As AI-generated content becomes better and cheaper, the posts, pictures, and videos we consume in our social media feeds will increasingly reflect the massively amplified interests of tech-savvy actors.

And malicious applications of AI go far beyond social media manipulation. Language models can already write better phishing emails than humans, and have code-writing capabilities that outperform human competitive programmers. AI that can write code can also write malware, and many AI researchers see language models as harbingers of an era of self-mutating AI-powered malicious software that could blindside the world. Other recent breakthroughs have significant implications for weaponized drone control and even bioweapon design.

Needed: a coherent plan

Policy and governance usually follow crises, rather than anticipate them. And that makes sense: the future is uncertain, and most imagined risks fail to materialize. We can’t invest resources in solving every hypothetical problem.

But exceptions have always been made for problems which, if left unaddressed, could have catastrophic effects. Nuclear technology, biotechnology, and climate change are all examples. Risk from advanced AI represents another such challenge. Like biological and nuclear risk, it calls for a co-ordinated, whole-of-government response.

Public safety agencies should establish AI observatories that produce unclassified reporting on publicly available information about AI capabilities and risks, and begin studying how to frame AI through a counterproliferation lens

Given the pivotal role played by semiconductors and advanced processors in the development of what are effectively new AI weapons, we should be tightening export control measures for hardware or resources that feed into the semiconductor supply chains of countries like China and Russia. 

Our defence and security agencies could follow the lead of the U.K.’s Ministry of Defence, whose Defence AI Strategy involves tracking and mitigating extreme and catastrophic risks from advanced AI.

AI has entered an era of remarkable, rapidly accelerating capabilities. Navigating the transition to a world with advanced AI will require that we take seriously possibilities that would have seemed like science fiction until very recently. We’ve got a lot to rethink, and now is the time to get started.

Source: The future of malicious artificial intelligence applications is here

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

Senator Woo: Election disinformation claims and Kenny Chiu’s Richmond riding

It was striking that the Conservatives lost three ridings with large Chinese Canadian populations: Steveston-Richmond East (which has flipped between the Conservatives and Liberals) and ridings which have been held by Conservatives for some time, Richmond Centre (2008-21) and Markham—Unionville (2015-21).

I tend to put more stock in claims of disinformation than Senator Woo, given his public record of being relatively uncritical of the Chinese regime.

And his critique of the article by Sze-Fung Lee and Benjamin Fung that prompted his rebuttal, for their comment that riding voters have “weak critical thinking skills and . . . (lack of) prior training or experience in dealing with disinformation” seems unwarranted given that we know that most voters, whatever their origins, are equally inexperienced in dealing with disinformation (nor are necessarily politicians).

And as to his concerns regarding Chiu’s proposed bill, they could be addressed in the Commons and Senate committees should the bill have proceeded to review:

Canadians are not generally sore losers, but the 2021 general election has produced a long tail of speculation about why certain ridings voted the way they did – but shouldn’t have. The latest is from two McGill academics in a recent Policy Options article, Misinformation and Chinese interference in Canada’s affairs. Sze-Fung Lee and Benjamin Fung claim that Kenny Chiu, a Conservative candidate in Steveston-Richmond East in B.C., was the target of a disinformation campaign via social media posts about a private member’s bill he proposed that did not get approved before the September federal election.

The Globe and Mail reported on the Lee and Fung article and questioned whether the campaign had cost him the election.

Neither the Globe nor Lee and Fung pointed to a “smoking gun” connecting Beijing to what happened in the Greater Vancouver riding, whose population is about 50 per cent ethnic Chinese. But both share the view that, in the words of Lee and Fung, “whoever was responsible for disseminating the fake news had a clear motive in reshaping the narratives in favour of Beijing’s interests.”

But was it disinformation – in the sense of false information that is intended to mislead – or legitimate debate within the Chinese-Canadian community?

Chiu’s Bill C-282, the Foreign Influence Registry Act, would have set up a registry for people or entities who contacted Canadian politicians or senior federal public officials in cases where they were or could be perceived to be acting on behalf of certain foreign governments or entities.

As Tarun Krishnakumar noted last July in a Policy Options article: “C-282 is also limited in that it only applies to agents acting on behalf of principals located in countries specifically designated by the Canadian government. In other words, it does not apply to foreign influence writ large. While politically expedient, this is problematic from a broader policy perspective as it opens up the framework to claims that it is discriminatory and unfairly targeted at certain countries.”

Lee and Fung don’t demonstrate the falsity of the social media posts they deem to be problematic but have instead taken at face value Chiu’s belief that he was the victim of disinformation.

One WeChat post that Chiu cited as misleading claims that the bill “is going to have extremely negative consequences for immigrants from mainland China. It will also harm economic, cultural and technological exchanges between Canada and China.”

The post goes on: “Although the bill doesn’t list which countries belong to the foreign forces, considering the soured relationship between Canada and China…(and Chiu’s) anti-China background, undoubtedly this bill is targeting mainland Chinese associations and aims to control or monitor mainland Chinese speech and behaviours.”

In Chiu’s proposed bill, a foreign principal was defined as “a foreign government, an individual or entity related to a foreign government, a foreign political organization that exists primarily to pursue political objectives or an individual or entity related to such an organization.”

It defined a related entity – among several criteria – as one in which the leadership is accustomed or under an obligation, whether formal or informal, to act in accordance with the directions, instructions or wishes of the foreign government or foreign political organization.”

Given that the People’s Republic of China (the PRC) is an authoritarian state, one could reasonably argue that all legally constituted entities in China – including corporations, educational institutions, alumni organizations, cultural groups, and municipalities – fall under the definition of foreign principal. If that is the case, any individual in Canada acting on behalf of such an entity would be subject to registration if he or she were to speak with a parliamentarian or senior public official on a public policy matter.

The Globe editors dismiss the idea that anyone attending a Chinese cultural event would be subject to registration under the proposed act. That may be so, but what if a Canadian representative of that Chinese cultural group were to speak with me as a senator about cultural services trade between Canada and China?

If the bill had passed, what would have stopped Canadian officials from declaring the cultural group to be under the control of the Chinese state and requiring that any representative of that group register under the act to consult with a parliamentarian or senior official about a public policy matter?

The “related entity” argument is what lies behind the calls to ban Huawei from involvement in Canada’s 5G telecommunications network. On the face of it, Huawei is a privately held company with no formal ties to the Chinese state. But critics of Huawei say it is tantamount to a foreign principal because the company is headquartered in China and could be required by the Chinese state to hand over data that would compromise Canadian security.

The same logic is behind the recent forced divestiture of China Mobile’s assets in Canada on the grounds that those assets could be leveraged by the Chinese state for non-commercial purposes. China Mobile does not actually own or operate any network infrastructure in Canada but rather uses the Telus network to deliver telecommunications services.

A badly written law such as C-282 would open the door to a similarly broad interpretation of many Chinese entities on the basis that they could theoretically be subject to direction from the Chinese state.

It should not come as a surprise, therefore, that many recent PRC immigrants who have enduring ties with their native country feared Chiu’s bill would have negative consequences for them, and that it would “harm economic, cultural and technological exchanges between Canada and China.” That they felt this way is less about “reshaping the narratives in favour of Beijing’s interests,” as Lee and Fung assert, as it is about self-protection.

None of the above is a defence of the Chinese system of government or Xi Jinping’s drift toward autocracy. But a badly drafted Canadian law on foreign influence does not advance democracy in China. It does, however, set back democracy in Canada by stigmatizing Canadians with institutional ties to the PRC.

It is bad enough to cry election disinformation without proper scrutiny. What is worse is Lee and Fung’s insinuation that some Steveston-Richmond East voters cast their ballots against Chiu because of “weak critical thinking skills and . . . (lack of) prior training or experience in dealing with disinformation.”

We harm the body politic by projecting our insecurities onto fellow citizens, especially Chinese-Canadians, and assuming that they are unwitting receptacles for disinformation from Beijing.  And we undermine the integrity of our elections by casting doubt on the legitimacy of voters’ intentions simply because their views don’t align with ours.

Lee and Fung are correct in saying that “taking a stand against . . . the Chinese Communist Party does not make the Conservatives or Canada anti-China.” They should have added the corollary that voting against a Conservative position on China does not make the elector a disinformation dupe or Chinese Communist Party sympathizer.

Source: Election disinformation claims and Kenny Chiu’s Richmond riding

China’s effort to force return of citizens who emigrated a ‘growing problem,’ RCMP Commissioner says

Of concern (along with other issues):

RCMP commissioner Brenda Lucki calls Beijing’s interference and intimidation operations targeting people who emigrate from China to Canada a “problem,” and says victims can report the harassment to Canadian authorities without fear.

Commissioner Lucki said Friday in an interview that she had no details at hand about the scale of the issue, but is looking to step up actions the force takes against such operations.

“I would say yes, it is a problem, but the breadth and depth of it I couldn’t really say for sure,” she said.

“It’s a growing problem, obviously, and something we want to work together with our international and domestic partners on. A lot of it is about awareness and education, because things happen and we want to make sure people who are affected by this feel safe – that they can report this without fear of reprisal.”

To that end, Commissioner Lucki said, there is an RCMP phone number for people affected by such incidents to call. She said the number has been available at least since she became commissioner in 2018, but she could not immediately say how many people have called it.

The Globe and Mail reported this week that China has been expanding its use of coercion to force the return of Chinese citizens who have settled abroad, many of them in Australia, Canada and the United States, in a campaign targeting fugitives and dissidents.

The trend was identified in a new report by Spain-based rights group Safeguard Defenders.

Citing Chinese government data, Safeguard’s report says Beijing had surpassed 10,000 returns under one repatriation program, called Sky Net, by late 2021. This is the only program for which data are available, and the watchdog group says it is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to non-judicial efforts to secure the return of people wanted by the Chinese state in 120 countries.

The report identifies three methods China employs to forcibly retrieve citizens.

Chinese authorities first attempt to coax a return through the target’s family and relatives who still live in China. They harass loved ones and try to coerce them into passing messages to the person abroad.

A second method is directly approaching the target outside mainland China, including by sending Chinese agents. A third method is what Safeguard Defenders calls “kidnappings abroad,” in which Chinese authorities arrest targets on foreign soil and take them back to China.

Security flaw found in smartphone app for Olympians in Beijing

Cherie Wong, the executive director of Alliance Canada Hong Kong, an umbrella group for Hong Kong pro-democracy activists in Canada, said many have lost faith that law enforcement in this country can help stop harassment from Beijing.

“The community has lost trust in Canadian agencies to help them. Many individuals have approached RCMP for help, but are bounced between enforcement and intelligence agencies,” she said. “Canadian enforcement and intelligence agencies do not have the tools and resources to effectively counter foreign interference operations. Chinese party-state actors have long utilized legal grey areas to assert influence inappropriately.”

Ivy Li, a spokesperson for the Canadian Friends of Hong Kong, said Canada needs a foreign-agents registration act like those in Australia or the United States, as well as a centralized reporting centre for victims of intimidation by the Chinese government.

Mehmet Tohti, executive director of the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project, said the RCMP do not have a public record of successfully tackling foreign-based harassment in Canada. “Uyghurs and other China-related activists approached the RCMP numerous times without any tangible result. For that reason many activists have already stopped reporting to the RCMP,” he said.

He added that he personally tried after his organization’s smartphones were hacked. His legal adviser “was directed from one unit to another unit, one department to another department,” he said.

Former RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson has acknowledged that not enough is being to done to stop coercion activities by China in Canada.

Mr. Paulson, the commissioner from 2011 to 2017, told The Globe this week that Canadian laws relating to extortion and threatening behaviour forbid these activities. But, he said: “We hadn’t devoted resources to this. … I can’t think of an instance where we have succeeded on the back of a complaint that Chinese agents were strong-arming citizens. You have to throw your shoulder into it.”

Commissioner Lucki said the RCMP’s federal policing program includes monitoring for foreign interference in Canadian affairs, such as election processes. She added that she expects some change in the RCMP’s approach to the issue in the year ahead, but declined to describe any specific plans. “It’s probably too early to ask that question,” she said.

Source: China’s effort to force return of citizens who emigrated a ‘growing problem,’ RCMP Commissioner says

Misinformation and Chinese interference in Canada’s affairs

Deeply concerning, and all parties should support such a registry:

The story started with a private member’s bill introduced by former Conservative MP Kenny Chiu in spring of 2021 – the Foreign Influence Registry Act (Bill C-282). Its intention was to impose “an obligation on individuals acting on behalf of a foreign principal to file a return when they undertake specific actions with respect to public office holders.” This was a potential way to expose the relationship between agents in Canada and their ties to foreign countries. It could have also exposed Canada’s susceptibility to foreign influence, making it more difficult for external states to conduct electoral interference, technological and intellectual property theft, or even surveillance and operations like the “Operation Fox Hunt” (a global covert operation conducted by Beijing to threaten and repatriate Chinese dissidents to mainland China).

However, the purposes of the bill, which did not pass, became the target of a misinformation campaign. How misinformation on the Foreign Influence Registry Act was spread can be used as a case study for the simple, yet effective tactics commonly deployed in the making of “fake news.”

Examining the disinformation tactics – why are they effective?

Fake news is widely spread in diaspora Chinese communities via social media such as WeChat and WhatsApp. Research indicates that people tend to accept misinformation as fact if it comes from a credible and trustworthy source, and so-called “trust” can also be based on “feelings of familiarity.”

Research indicates we are more likely to believe in our friends and family, or even acquaintances, than complete strangers. And that familiarity does not necessarily have to be based on previous face-to-face interaction, but can also come in the form of internet communication, especially in the new era of technological advancement. So, when fake news is tailored to the Chinese community and disseminated through its communication channels, particularly via its own social network, it increases the acceptance rate of disinformation.

In addition, according to the principle of social proof theory, people tend to endorse a belief that is generally agreed on among the majority of their community, even if they may not believe in such ideology or information in the first place. This may be due to a need to seek social recognition or to prevent being an outcast in the community, especially in an overseas diaspora group. As well, despite the fact that some Chinese immigrants would like to verify the truthfulness of the news, they may not have access to other mainstream, Western media because of a language barrier.

The reliance on internet information often results in the creation of an “echo chamber” that is further exacerbated by the filter effect of the online algorithm. Applications such as the “WeChat Moment,” a feature in WeChat, which is widely used by the Chinese community, similar to Facebook and Instagram, allow individuals to view others’ stories. Thus, the Chinese community is being trapped in the vicious cycle of reinforced information consumption patterns.

Repeated exposure to the same fake news increases its chances of being considered true. Thus, when a person encounters the same piece of news, regardless of its integrity and credibility, this “increase[s] perceptions of honesty and sincerity as well as agreement with what the person says.” The phenomenon is often called the “illusion truth effect” in psychology. In other words, even though one may not believe the fake news, reinforced disinformation increases one’s susceptibility to it.

Combatting a state-sponsored disinformation campaign is never an easy task. Multidisciplinary approaches – including international co-operation and exchange of information between liberal democracies, establishment of an integrated institution that oversees all cybersecurity intelligence and analysis, planning and executing efforts to counter disinformation, as well as education and training to increase critical thinking by the public ─ are vital to improve our resilience and defend our core values against foreign interference and disinformation.

The danger – state-sponsored disinformation campaigns 

The case of Bill C-282 is indeed a salient example of how fake news is tailored and disseminated in a particular target group. However, another common tactic is state-sponsored disinformation. This is difficult to disprove because it has direct linkages with the central authority, which then denies responsibility for releasing the misinformation.

Because he was an outspoken politician who advocated for Hong Kong and democracy and heavily criticized Beijing’s violation on human rights, Chiu was sanctioned by the Chinese government against returning to his birthplace, Hong Kong. Moreover, due to his role on the Subcommittee on International Human Rights (SDIR), and previous work urging the Canadian government to impose sanctions on China, as a parliamentarian he was viewed unfavourably by the Beijing government.

Therefore, when the disinformation around Bill C-282 was deployed, Chiu’s pro-democracy and “anti-Chinese communist party background” were being used as justification for the accusation and argument that the proposed Foreign influence Registry Act was indeed racial discrimination against the Chinese, and that the bill’s prime objective was to “suppress pro-China opinion, as well as to operate surveillance on organizations and individuals” in the overseas Chinese community.

In addition, heavy criticism and attacks were not only focused on Chiu, but also on the Conservative party and leader Erin O’Toole, well-known for their hawkish stance against Beijing’s policies. Now that the 2021 federal election is over, it is indeed logical to infer that whoever was responsible for disseminating the fake news had a clear motive in reshaping the narratives in favour of Beijing’s interests.

In spite of the fact that the Chiu incident made only ripples in the recent federal election (he lost his seat as MP), such disinformation campaigns and their potential to manipulate diaspora communities (via psychology and social connections) could generate waves that would drown Canada’s democracy in the future.

Taking a stand against a decision by the Chinese Communist Party does not make the Conservatives or Canada anti-China. The assumption that it does has driven this general belief in the Chinese community, especially for those who have weak critical thinking skills and no prior training or experience in dealing with disinformation.

Perhaps more alarming is the fact that these tactics could be deployed against any group in an information and psychological warfare campaign. In short, it has a high potential for interference in Canada’s electoral process by foreign state actors and thus severely threatens the country’s liberal democracy.

Canada remains vulnerable to the security risk constituted by foreign interference. As a liberal country that vows to uphold its values in freedom and democracy, specific countermeasures such as Chiu’s proposed act and laws like the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act should be implemented.

At the third-party entities and civilian levels, one countermeasure could be a “foreign influence transparency scheme” similar to the one suggested in the news campaign Can Xi Not, introduced by Alliance Canada Hong Kong. This may be particularly important for both traditional and new media, which often have the power to shape public debates. In other words, media would retain their freedom of press, but would be required to disclose their foreign sponsorship, if there is any. Last but not least, other approaches to increase citizens’ resilience, as well as the nation’s capability to deter state-sponsored disinformation, should be thoroughly considered and enforced.

Source: https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/january-2022/misinformation-and-chinese-interference-in-canadas-affairs/?mc_cid=9caa3573a1&mc_eid=86cabdc518

Liberals must demand probe into any China election meddling

Agree.

But I would hope that we will also get some insight from academics and community members other factors that may also have played a role. A question I have is whether a weaker CPC position on masking and vaccines may have also contributed, given Chinese Canadians, judging by Richmond numbers, were less averse to COVID restrictions than some other groups:

It’s a common trope that foreign policy is never a ballot question. As riled up as Canadians got about Afghanistan in our recent election, research showed it had little impact on the choices they ultimately made. Bread and butter issues like childcare or concerns about climate change mattered more than how well the prime minister performed — or did not perform — on the world stage.

Or did it? There is growing evidence that for some voters, foreign matters played a key role, not due to personal preference, but foreign interference. And that interference had a direct impact on votes, seat count, and the shape of the 44th Parliament.

Source: Liberals must demand probe into any China election meddling

Defeated Conservative MP fears attacks by pro-Beijing forces swung votes against him 

I was less surprised by Chiu’s defeat given that the riding has a recent history of flipping than Alice Wong’s defeat after holding the seat since 2008. Agree with Burton that an investigation would be helpful to assess the impact compared to other factors (e.g., did vaccine and masking mandates have an impact given some CPC mixed messaging):

When Kenny Chiu introduced a private member’s bill that would set up a registry for agents of foreign governments, he may well have painted a target on his back.

The bill was inspired largely by China’s suspected interference in Canada and the B.C. Conservative says he was attacked over it in Chinese-language media throughout the election.

Some of the bashing bled into mainstream social media, with one poster on Twitter this week saying “I’ve never seen a more self-hating Chinese person in my life.”

Much of the criticism, Chiu says, misrepresented what that legislation really stated, but it had its effect.

Constituents in his Steveston-Richmond East riding who had previously voted for Chiu suddenly gave him the cold shoulder.

“When I go door knocking … there have been supporters of mine who just shut the door in my face,” said the politician. “There is so much hatred that I sense.”

And then on Monday, Chiu lost to Liberal Parm Bains by almost 3,000 votes, just two years after he was first elected, even as the Liberals more or less duplicated their 2019 performance.

His defeat — and that of other Conservative MPs in ridings dominated by Chinese Canadians, – has raised the question of whether proxies for the People’s Republic government managed to influence the election – just as security agencies and other watchdogs have warned could happen.

Chiu stresses that his issue is with China’s regime, but said online critics implied that meant he was opposed to the country itself and even the race, despite his own Chinese heritage.

He said Chinese-Canadians — even if they ended up disliking him – are victims themselves of such disinformation.

Charles Burton, a former diplomat in Beijing who’s fluent in Mandarin, said he tried to help Chiu by seeking out and warning him about disinformation on WeChat, the popular Chinese social media site, and elsewhere online.

But there seemed little they could do about it.

“It spread like a cancer over his campaign,” said Burton, a fellow with the Macdonald Laurier Institute and prominent critic of Beijing. “He just saw his campaign disintegrating over the last couple of weeks.”

Burton said Canadian authorities should investigate the online campaigns to determine if the Chinese government itself was behind the attacks.

He is not the first to raise the issue. David Vigneault, head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said in a speech in February that attempts by foreign states to influence Canadian politics and politicians were among the agency’s “most paramount concerns.”

Bains could not be reached for comment Tuesday, and there is no suggestion he had anything to do with the online sniping Chiu faced.

In fact, the Liberals themselves have been the target of harsh attacks from the Chinese government and state-run media in the ongoing feud over the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

It spread like a cancer over his campaign

But there was evidence that China’s focus turned during the election to the Conservatives, whose platform outlined a multi-pronged approach to confronting Beijing. That included barring Huawei from 5G networks, imposing Magnitsky-style sanctions on Chinese rights violators and advising universities against partnering with state-owned companies.

The Liberal platform made a brief mention of measures to combat “illegal and unacceptable behaviour by authoritarian states,” singling out China, Iran and Russia.

In what appeared to be a comment on the Conservative blueprint, Chinese ambassador Cong Peiwu told the Hill Times newspaper in August that China opposes politicians who “hype” or “smear” the country. Then barely a week before election day, the Chinese Communist Party-run Global Times ran a story blasting the Tories’ policies, predicting that if the party were elected China would launch a “strong counterstrike” against Canada.

Michael Chan, a former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister who has spoken in defence of Beijing, wrote in a recent Chinese-language column that implementing the Conservative policies could trigger hatred and discrimination against Chinese people.

It’s impossible at this point to determine what factors caused results in individual ridings, but Chiu was not the only Conservative incumbent to be defeated in seats with large Chinese-Canadian populations, people exposed to such ethnic-Chinese media.

Though not all the votes had been counted Tuesday, Alice Wong appeared headed for defeat in Richmond Centre, next to Chiu’s riding, despite having held the seat through four previous elections.

Bob Saroya lost the Toronto-area riding of Markham-Unionville — where almost two thirds of residents are ethnic Chinese — to Liberal Paul Chiang after taking the previous two elections.

They have chat rooms and chat groups dedicated to unseating Kenny Chiu

Chiu, a Hong Kong native, says he has never been shy about his dislike of the Communist government in Beijing. But last April he introduced a private member’s bill that would require any agents of a foreign government to register with Ottawa and report on their activities. It was modelled after similar legislation in Australia and a law that has been in force in the United States for several decades.

Local Chinese-language media ignored the bill when it was introduced but as the election campaign turned into a dead heat between the Liberals and Conservatives, “attacks rained down on me,” the former MP said.

An article posted anonymously on WeChat, and that later showed up on various other online platforms, suggested it was designed to “suppress” the Chinese community and that anyone connected to China would have to register.

A similar story on a Chinese-language site called Today Commercial News said it would curb the freedom of speech of the Chinese community and have a “profound impact” on Chinese Canadians.

In fact, the legislation would require registration only for those acting on behalf of foreign governments or political groups who lobby a senior civil servant or an elected politician. It has actually been criticized for being too narrowly focused.

Other WeChat posts suggested erroneously the Conservatives had proposed to ban the widely used social media site itself.

“It’s very much organized,” said Chiu. “They have chat rooms and chat groups dedicated to unseating Kenny Chiu.”

Meanwhile, the president of the Chinese Benevolent Association, a group that has repeatedly run advertisements backing up Beijing on contentious issues like Hong Kong’s National Security Law, hosted a free lunch on behalf of the Liberal candidate in Vancouver East riding.

New Democrat Jenny Kwan still managed to win the seat handily, however.

Source: https://nationalpost.com/news/politics/election-2021/defeated-tory-mp-fears-attacks-by-pro-beijing-forces-swung-votes-against-him

Australia:University students will be trained to spot foreign interference

Will be interesting to see how the training works in practice and possible lessons learned for Canada:

University students will be trained to spot foreign interference threats on campus and report them to authorities under proposed new rules aimed at significantly beefing up universities’ responsibilities for countering Chinese government influence on campuses.

Academics and students involved in research collaborations with overseas institutions will also get specific training on how to “recognise, mitigate and handle concerns of foreign interference”, following security agencies’ concerns about critical research being stolen.

The measures are contained in new draft foreign interference guidelines for universities, which are being furiously debated among university leaders and government officials. The federal government has already been forced to review a key element of the guidelines, which would have required all academics to disclose their membership of foreign political parties over the past decade, following a fierce backlash from university chiefs.

Following growing concerns from Australia’s security agencies about the risk of research theft by China and other foreign actors, the guidelines state that students and staff are to “receive training on, and have access to information about how foreign interference can manifest on campus and how to raise concerns in the university or with appropriate authorities”.

The measures are also aimed at addressing reports of students and academics being harassed by pro-Beijing groups on campuses. They propose that orientation programs should be used to “promote to all staff and students ways to report within their university concerns of foreign interference, intimidation and harassment that can lead to self-censorship”. Universities will also be required to have policies that set out how reported “concerns are tracked, resolved and recorded and shared” internally and when they should be reported to outside authorities.

To oversee these measures, the guidelines state that universities must have an “accountable authority” – either a senior executive or executive body – that will have responsibility for research collaborations with overseas institutions, and reviewing security risks and communicating them with the government.

The guidelines have been drafted by the Universities Foreign Interference Taskforce (UFIT), a collaborative body that includes university vice-chancellors and government officials. The final version will replace existing guidelines, which are far less prescriptive. The proposal has prompted considerable concern among academic leaders about the mandatory language underpinning the new requirements, and what consequences, if any, universities will face from government if they fail to implement them.

Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge has declined to comment on “what is and isn’t in the draft guidelines”, but said earlier this year he was deeply concerned by a Human Rights Watch report that revealed accounts of Chinese international students being surveilled and harassed by their pro-Beijing classmates.

The report found that students were self-censoring in class out of fear comments critical of the Chinese Communist Party would be reported to authorities, with several students saying their parents in China had been hauled into police stations over their campus activities. Academics interviewed by Human Rights Watch also reported self-censorship practices, saying sensitive topics such as Taiwan had become too difficult to teach without a backlash from pro-Beijing students.

The report’s author, Sophie McNeill, said the draft guidelines indicated the government had taken the report’s findings into account.

“This focus had been missing from the previous guidelines, so it is very welcome these issues are now being recognised and addressed. It is critical the final guidelines include practical measures to safeguard academic freedom and address issues of harassment, surveillance and self-censorship faced by international students and staff,” Ms McNeill said.

Some universities have already taken steps to respond to the issues highlighted by Human Rights Watch. The University of Technology Sydney, for example, updated its orientation program for international students this semester to include guidance on acceptable behaviour and how students could report intimidation or surveillance by other students.

“We have certainly made it clear to students that what is discussed in classrooms is not something that should be reported on to the embassy,” Mr Watt, UTS deputy vice-chancellor, said.

“We’re not encouraging students to spy on each other. But rather, it’s saying: if you get doxxed or bullied or feel unable to express your views in a lecture here is the support available to you and here’s what you should do.”

The university’s misconduct rules allow for a range of penalties in response to unacceptable behaviour, including potential expulsion in serious cases.

Source: https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/university-students-will-be-trained-to-spot-foreign-interference-20210830-p58n3s.html