Fears of election meddling on social media were overblown, say researchers

Hype versus the reality (perhaps Canada not important enough…). The hype was in both mainstream and ethnic media:

Now that the election is over and researchers have combed through the data collected, their conclusion is clear: there was more talk about foreign trolls during the campaign than there was evidence of their activities.

Although there were a few confirmed cases of attempts to deceive Canadians online, three large research teams devoted to detecting co-ordinated influence campaigns on social media report they found little to worry about.

In fact, there were more news reports about malicious activity during the campaign than traces of it.

“We didn’t see high levels of effective disinformation campaigns. We didn’t see evidence of effective bot networks in any of the major platforms. Yet, we saw a lot of coverage of these things,” said Derek Ruths, a professor of computer science at McGill University in Montreal.

He monitored social media for foreign meddling during the campaign and, as part of the Digital Democracy Project, scoured the web for signs of disinformation campaigns.

Threat of foreign influence was hyped

“The vast majority of news stories about disinformation overstated the results and represented them as far more conclusive than they were. It was the case everywhere, with all media,” he said.

It’s a view mirrored by the Ryerson Social Media Lab, which also monitored social media during the campaign.

“Fears of foreign and domestic interference were overblown,” Philip Mai, co-director of the Social Media Lab, told CBC News.

A major focus of monitoring efforts during the campaign was Twitter, a platform favoured by politicians, journalists and partisans of all stripes. It’s where a lot of political exchanges take place, and it’s an easy target for automated influence campaigns.

“Our preliminary analysis of the [Twitter hashtag] #cdnpoli suggests that only about one per cent of accounts that used that hashtag earlier in the election cycle can be classified as likely to be bots,” said Mai.

The word “likely” is key. Any social media analyst will tell you that detecting bonafide automated accounts that exist solely to spread a message far and wide is incredibly difficult.

#TrudeauMustGo and other frenzies

A few times during the campaign, independent researchers found signs that certain conversations on Twitter were being amplified by accounts that appeared to be foreign. For example, the popular hashtag #TrudeauMustGo was tweeted and retweeted in large numbers by users who had the word “MAGA” in their user descriptions.

But this doesn’t mean those users were part of a foreign campaign, Ruths said.

“It’s very hard to prove that those MAGA accounts aren’t Canadian,” he said. “How can you prove who’s Canadian online? What does a Canadian look like on Twitter?”

Few Canadians use Twitter for news. According to the Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, only 11 per cent of Canadians got their news on Twitter in 2019, down slightly from 12 per cent last year.

Twitter’s most avid users tend to be politicians, journalists and highly engaged partisans.

Fenwick McKelvey, an assistant professor at Montreal’s Concordia University who researches social media platforms, said he feels journalists overestimate Twitter’s ability to take the pulse of the voting public.

“Twitter is an elite medium used by journalists and politicians more than everyday Canadians,” McKelvey told CBC News. “Twitter is a very specific public. Not a proxy for public opinion.”

In fact, most Canadians — 57 per cent — told a 2018 survey by the Social Media Lab that they have never shared political opinions on any social media platform.

Tweets for elites

For an idea of just how elitist Twitter can be, take a look at who is driving its political conversations. For some of the major hashtags during the election — like #cdnpoli, #defundCBC and the recently popular #wexit — just a fraction of users post original content. The rest just retweet.

And the users who get the most retweets, the biggest influencers, represent an even tinier sliver of Twitter users, according to data from the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, another outfit that monitored disinformation during the campaign.

“What we thought was a horizontal democratic space is dominated by less than two per cent of accounts,” said Gabrielle Lim, a fellow at the Citizen Lab.

“We need to take everything with a grain of salt when looking at Twitter. Doing data analysis is easy, but we’re bad at contextualizing what it means,” Lim said.

So why this focus on Twitter if it’s such a small and unrepresentative medium for Canadians? Because it’s easy to study. Unless a user sets an account to private, everything posted on Twitter is public and fairly easy to access.

On the other hand, more popular social networks like Facebook make it much harder to harvest user content at scale. A lot of misinformation may also be shared in closed channels like private Facebook groups and WhatsApp groups, which are nearly impossible for outsiders to access.

But even taking into account those larger social media audiences, the evidence shows that Canadians are getting their news from a variety of sources, Lim noted.

Although the threat posed by online disinformation to Canadian democracy was overblown in the context of the 2019 campaign, Ruths said he still believes it was important to be alert, just as it’s important to go to the dentist even if no cavities are found.

And he suggests that journalists looking for evidence of bot activity apply the same level of rigour as the people doing the research.

“We saw a lot of well-intentioned reporting,” he said. “But finding suspected accounts is not the same as finding bots. Saying that MAGA accounts don’t look like Canadians’ doesn’t mean they’re not.”

Source: Fears of election meddling on social media were overblown, say researchers

Is Beijing sticking its nose into the election campaign in Markham?

More on foreign influence and divisions within the Chinese Canadian community, and the related risks to democracy:

The suburban Toronto community of Markham has become ground zero for Chinese government influence operations in Canada, which aims to manipulate and subvert Canadian debate on both domestic and foreign policy that intersects with Chinese interests.

Markham, one of Canada’s most ethnically diverse cities, is home to 100,000 Chinese community members who have become the focus of domestic and foreign disinformation efforts in this election. Recent reports have exposed efforts to target this community with false narratives about illegal immigration and government plans to legalize hard drugs, which have been promoted in Chinese-language local Conservative campaign material, Facebook ads and on the popular Chinese social media platform WeChat.

The community is also deeply divided among those who support greater freedom and democracy for Hong Kong and those who—through coercion, economic necessity or fealty—support the Chinese Communist Party and regime.

This split was most recently evidenced, when pro-regime forces organized an anti-Hong Kong democracy rally in Markham in August to counter pro-democracy groups who have rallied in support of demonstrators in Hong Kong. Of note, the anti-Hong Kong rally was attended by a former influential Ontario cabinet minister, and Markham-Unionville MPP, Michael Chan.

Chan was named in an explosive 2015 Globe and Mail article about Chinese regime influence in Canadian politics. The report claimed that CSIS, Canada’s intelligence agency, briefed Ontario officials about Chan, who according to them “had developed too close a relationship with China’s consulate in Toronto, raising fears the minister was susceptible to interference from Beijing that could put Canada’s national interests at risk.”

Chan denied the allegations, writing in an open letter that the claims were “offensive and totally false.” He later slapped the Globe and Mail and leading Canadian China expert, Charles Burton, with a lawsuit.

At the August pro-Beijing rally in Markham, Chan reportedly spoke in support of the Hong Kong government’s tactics against pro-democracy protestors, when he declared that “we support Hong Kong’s police strictly handling unrest, Hong Kong’s government carefully defending the rule of law, China’s government carefully observing Hong Kong”.

In addition to its crackdown in Hong Kong, Beijing has also faced international criticism for its mass violations of human rights in the Western Chinese region of Xinjiang, where authorities have detained and imprisoned one million ethnic Uyghurs in concentration camps, where they are reportedly subjected to slave labour for Chinese entrepreneurs. Among them is Canadian-Uyghur, Huseyin Celil who has suffered in Chinese prisons since 2006.

With one of the largest Chinese constituencies in Canada, it is remarkable that these issues (including the detention and torture of two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig as part of Beijing’s Huawei hostage-diplomacy) have been largely dismissed by local federal election candidates.

At a local election debate last week, candidates were asked about whether they supported Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and if they condemned the ethnic cleansing of Uyghurs taking place in Xinjiang. Both Liberal candidate Alan Ho, and incumbent Conservative MP Bob Saroya, stated their support for human rights and free speech. Unlike their own party leaders, however, they failed to condemn the brutal violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators by the Hong Kong and Beijing governments. Instead, both Saroya and Ho echoed Beijing’s warnings against Canadian interference in Hong Kong affairs.

“We have to make sure that we are not interfering with some of those governments,” warned Saroya. Ho sidestepped criticizing Hong Kong police brutality, telling the audience instead that “we need to focus on the real issues that Hong Kong faces under [a] ‘one country, two systems’ model. Like education, jobs, that kind of thing.”

Ho, never veering far from the script in a binder laid out in front of him, criticized Saroya for accepting a fully paid trip to China by the Communist Party in 2018.

Gloria Fung, President of Canada-Hong Kong Link, a non-profit Hong Kong diaspora advocacy group, is deeply concerned about undue foreign influence and of Canadian organizations that are linked to the Chinese government. Of those MPs who accept Communist Party funded travel to China, she warns that “there are no such things as free trips—you have to pay them back later.” Her organization is calling for legislation that would curb foreign influence and expansion of Canadian Magnitsky sanctions to target those authorities who are responsible for violent crackdown in Hong Kong.

When Mr. Ho appeared at my door while canvassing last week, I used the opportunity to ask him about his own travel to China and his position on China’s human rights abuses.

“Seven years ago, when I brought to Markham the world’s longest [dancing] dragon, I went to China three times, all at my own expense,” he told me.

When I asked him about mass Chinese human rights abuses against one million Uyghurs in Xinjiang, Mr. Ho suggested that it could be “fake news,” despite countless reports confirming it by western international human rights organizations and mainstream media. Mr. Ho told me that we should “be careful about a lot of messages, because a lot of people are spreading fake news, wrong messages, even here,” he explained.

Surprised by the number of Uyghurs reportedly in the Chinese camps, Ho exclaimed, “a million people? How big is that camp? A million people? A million people is half of Toronto’s population. How could they do that?”

Mr. Ho’s campaign stated later, in an email, that he had misunderstood the pronunciation of the word “Uyghur,” and therefore didn’t understand the initial question. Yet the Ho campaign failed to condemn the Chinese government for its campaign against the Uyghurs. Mr. Saroya never responded to requests for interviews.

Local Green Party candidate, Elvin Kao, did write on Facebook that he supports imposing “export controls on military, social surveillance, and crowd-control-related technology” as well as Magnitsky sanctions against those authorities “who are responsible for violation of human rights, rule of law and autonomy in Hong Kong,” positions which are shared by the NDP in response to a questionnaire sent out by a coalition of pro-democracy Hong Kong advocacy groups.

As truth and facts fall victim to candidates who pander to groups aligned with Beijing, the erosion of our democracy may not fall far behind. Every Canadian voter can help protect it, by asking local candidates about their positions on human rights in China, and Canada’s policy towards them. By doing so, we remind those candidates that core Canadian values of human rights, democracy, freedom and rule-of-law do matter, and that we expect our political representatives to respect and defend them.

Source: Is Beijing sticking its nose into the election campaign in Markham?

Glavin: Beijing casts shadow of fear across Canada

Terry Glavin and Ian Young have valid points along with a good thought experiment to underline them. The distinction between “Canada’s Chinese community” and Chinese Canadians is an important one:

Serving mainly the city’s ethnic Chinese community, Vancouver’s Tenth Church, in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, has been a venerable Vancouver institution, a refuge for the poor and the marginalized, since the 1930s. During a prayer service on Sunday, Aug. 19, a braying, flag-waving mob gathered outside. It took 20 officers from the Vancouver Police Department to guard the church doors, block passing traffic, and escort the frightened parishioners, at the conclusion of the service, through a gathered crowd of more than 100 people.

That same weekend, in Montreal, another crowd of shouting flag-wavers crashed the Pride parade after bullying organizers into barring a group of LGBTQ Chinese-Canadians from participating in the parade. Leading up to the event, on social media, the bullies had talked about following members of the ethnic Chinese group after the parade, to beat them up. The bullies went on to march alongside the annual Montreal parade in their own column, belting out a fiercely nationalistic song in a disruption of the conventional moment of silence honouring the gay community’s dead from homophobic murders, and from the time of the AIDS crisis.

In the case of the Vancouver incident, the mob was made up of people who had showed up earlier in the day, waving Chinese flags, to disrupt a rally in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement that had assembled outside the Vancouver consulate of the People’s Republic of China. The flag wavers heard about the prayer service, which was devoted to Hong Kong’s protesters, and followed the church-goers from the rally.

At the time, a thought occurred to me. Why wasn’t this a Canada-wide, above-the-fold national news story? That little puzzle is easily solved. Most of the churchgoers were not white people, and neither was the mob. They were all mostly ethnic Chinese. If the mob had been made up of preposterously nationalistic, flag-waving white people, it would have been a shocking story about a horrible, racist incident in Vancouver. But if the Christians had been mostly white people, and the mob mostly ethnic Chinese, the incident would have been lurid grist for racist teeth-grinding mills and radio hotline shouters from coast to coast.

In the case of the Montreal Pride incident, a similar thought occurred to the South China Morning Post’s Ian Young, who has developed a habit of breaking big stories overlooked by Canada’s mainstream news media. Based in Vancouver, Young ended up reporting the most complete story about what had happened in Montreal, and his thought experiment went like this: What if a mob of flag-waving American right-wingers had threatened violence and bullied the Pride organizers into expelling an ethnic Chinese group that wanted to honour Hong Kong’s LGBT community? What if the right-wingers had then crashed the parade with their own marchers, and the song they belted out during the solemn moment of silence was the Star-Spangled Banner?

You can probably imagine how widely and thoroughly a story like that would have been reported, and the sorts of stirring speeches our politicians would have made about it. But the bullies in Montreal were from the same pro-Beijing cohort as the bullies in Vancouver, and the song they sang was March of the Volunteers, the anthem of the People’s Republic of China.

You can’t say that the event in Montreal was racist, or even necessarily homophobic, exactly, just as it can’t be said that what happened in Vancouver was categorically racist, or even a straightforward case of religious bigotry. But it is exceedingly difficult to argue that something kindred to racism is not at least involved to some degree, in the way the news media fails to pay attention to the phenomenon of Beijing’s bullying and influence-peddling in Canada. And in the way our politicians, from all the political parties, if only most egregiously the Liberal Party, pander and placate in these matters.

It may not be exactly racist to resort to the term “Canada’s Chinese community,” but it will get you off on the wrong foot, and if you’re not careful, whatever your intentions, you may end up at least serving a fundamentally racist purpose.

There at nearly 2 million people of Chinese descent in Canada, but until very recently, owing to migration facilitated mainly by the scandal-plagued and now-shuttered federal Immigrant Investor Program, Canada’s ethnic Chinese came almost exclusively from the five Cantonese-speaking communities at the mouth of the Pearl River and adjacent areas around Hong Kong. Among Canada’s immigrants classified as ethnic Chinese, there are at least hundreds of thousands of people that Beijing describes in the argot of Communist Party propaganda as the “five poisons”: Taiwanese, Tibetan and Uighur nationalists, followers of Falun Gong religious practices, and democrats.

Increasingly, these Canadians are living in fear. If they aren’t careful about what they say, their family members back in China will end up being badgered, blacklisted, or worse. This fear is particularly acute among Canada’s Uighurs, whose fellow Muslims in Xinjiang have been interned, as many as 2 million of them, in re-education camps.

The fear is spreading in Canada, now that Hong Kong is in turmoil. It is restraining Canadians from exercising their rights to free speech and freedom of assembly in the Chinese-language news media — now controlled almost entirely by wealthy pro-Beijing interests — and in their decisions about whether to risk raising their voices or attending rallies in support of pro-democracy Hongkongers. It is spreading on university campuses — Beijing closely monitors the activities of Canada’s nearly 80,000 Chinese student-visa holders — and Beijing’s United Front Works Department now effectively controls hundreds of Chinese community and business associations, big and small, across Canada.

In these ways, Beijing is asserting its international reach to undermine the inviolable human rights of hundreds of thousands of Canadian citizens, and by the reckoning of the Geneva-based Human Rights Watch organization, the problem is getting worse. Earlier this year, Amnesty International and a coalition of diaspora groups presented the Canadian Security Intelligence Service with an exhaustive study that describes in detail the threats and harassment Beijing and its operatives in Canada are spreading.

“Definitely, people are afraid to speak out,” Ivy Li of the Canadian Friends of Hong Kong told me. “But it is a dilemma. People are also afraid of backlash, that Canadians in the mainstream will think all Chinese Canadians are involved in infiltration, or are working for Beijing, and will be suspect.”

Li, who emigrated from Hong Kong decades ago, said she has personally experienced hostility owing to perfectly well-justified concerns about Chinese money-laundering and the gross distortions created by Chinese capital investment in the real estate market. “But Canadians are very considerate, and we want our society to be more fair and just, and so this fear of being accused of racism, it is part of why mainstream society, especially the media, allows the pro-Beijing supporters to play the racism card.”

The role racism plays in these necessary debates is obviously complex, but even the most virtuous Canadian politicians have been happy to see Chinese immigrants as cash cows, and to regard Chinese Canadians as voting blocs, Li tells me, “and as Chinese diaspora first, rather than as Canadian citizens first.

“This allows Beijing to own at least part of us in Canada, and it means we are left to fend for ourselves against the Chinese government. And that is racist.”

Source: Glavin: Beijing casts shadow of fear across Canada

Liberal party membership forms distributed at pro-Beijing rally against Hong Kong protests

Look forward to more details emerging:

As speaker after speaker criticized the mass protests in Hong Kong and defended the Chinese government at a Toronto-area rally recently, a different kind of politicking was quietly unfolding.

Several members of the crowd of about 200 passed around and appeared to fill in Liberal membership forms, a striking juxtaposition between Canada’s governing party and backers of China’s Communist regime.

A Liberal spokesman said Thursday the forms looked to be ones that haven’t been used for three years — since the party ended paid memberships — and which would not be accepted today as valid registrations.

And the party had nothing at all to do with the rally, he added.

But critics of the Chinese government say they’re troubled that any kind of Liberal recruiting efforts might have taken place at a pro-Beijing event, calling it more evidence of China’s sway within Canadian politics generally.

“You can see the close connection between the pro-Beijing camp and the Liberal party,” said Gloria Fung of the group Canada-Hong Kong Link. “But … the pro-Beijing camp actually has their people in different federal parties. It’s not only confined to the Liberal party. I can easily name people in the Conservative party who are advocates of the Chinese government’s interests.”

The Aug. 11 rally at King Square shopping centre in Markham featured a number of speakers who portrayed the massive demonstrations in Hong Kong as a dangerous threat to the city’s peace, stability and economy.

The protests have brought as many as a million or more people to the streets for the past 11 weeks, decrying a law that would have allowed extradition to mainland China, calling for the investigation of alleged police brutality and demanding democratic reforms. Some have become violent.

Speakers at the Markham event included Michael Chan, who until last year was an Ontario Liberal cabinet minister.

Chinese-language media reports had said Han Dong, another former MPP who is now running for the federal Liberal nomination in Toronto’s Don Valley North riding, would also attend. One of the event’s moderators mentioned his name, too. But Dong issued a statement latersaying neither he nor any of his campaign team were at the rally. He could not be reached for comment.

Recruiting new members is a timeworn way for would-be candidates to win party nominations.

John Yuen, a Toronto-based supporter of the Hong Kong democracy movement attended the Markham rally to observe, and said he videotaped people passing around forms bearing the Liberal logo.

In the video, posted on Facebook, some of the audience members begin filling out the papers.

Photographs taken by another observer at the rally, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Wilfred, provide a closer look at the form. It appears to be the same as one that was available for download from the Liberal website as recently as Wednesday evening. The National Post asked about the incident Thursday morning, and the download page had been disabled by the afternoon.

The form, which includes payment options, has not been used since 2016, when the federal Liberals decided to make membership in the party free, said spokesman Braeden Caley.

“Those images do not appear to be authentic Liberal registration forms, and they would not be accepted as valid by the party,” he said. “The Liberal Party of Canada was not involved in the event … in any respect.”

Canadians can now join the party without charge by registering online.

Regardless, the presence of partisan political activity at the event raised eyebrows within the Chinese-Canadian community.

“I was very alarmed,” said Fenella Sung of the group Canadian Friends of Hong Kong, who suggested the Liberal party investigate how it happened.

Fung of Canada-Hong Kong Link said she sees the incident as more evidence of Beijing’s attempts to involve itself in Canadian politics, an important issue with an election looming.

“I consider this to be a major threat to our democracy,” she said

Source: Liberal party membership forms distributed at pro-Beijing rally against Hong Kong protests

Former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister headlines pro-Beijing rally near Toronto

Sigh.

If I recall correctly, former Minister Chan was the implicit example of a provincial cabinet minister when former CSIS Director Fadden warned about Canadian politicians being “agents of influence” or “secret supporters.” in 2010:

As protesters continued to surge through the streets of Hong Kong to press for greater freedoms, a former Canadian cabinet member offered a much different viewpoint — just outside Toronto.

Michael Chan, Ontario’s Liberal trade minister until last year, was a keynote speaker as scores of Chinese Canadians rallied in support of Beijing and the largely non-democratic Hong Kong administration.

“Unity is better than violence,” Chan proclaimed. “We support Hong Kong’s police strictly handling unrest, Hong Kong’s government carefully defending the rule of law, China’s government carefully observing Hong Kong,”

The event Chan headlined was part of what appears to be a worldwide effort to rally the Chinese diaspora against the Hong Kong demonstrators, whose prolonged, mass movement has offered a surprising challenge to Beijing.

In downtown Toronto on Saturday, a parade of Ferraris, Lamborghinis and other super cars driven by China supporters waving People’s Republic flags contributed to a noisy — if bizarre — counter protest, as backers of the Hong Kong democracy advocates struggled to be heard.

Similar clashes have occurred in Australia and Vancouver, where on Sunday China loyalists surrounded a church holding a prayer session for the Hong Kong demonstrators.

They come as Chinese President Xi Jinping expands the role of the United Front Work Department, a party offshoot whose mission includes influencing ethnic Chinese and political elites in foreign countries.

There is no direct evidence that Chinese officials are behind the various pro-Beijing activities, but critics of the regime argue their fingerprints are everywhere.

“I definitely, 100 per cent believe these kind of actions are organized by the Chinese communist regime in Beijing,” says Sheng Xue, a prominent Toronto-based journalist and activist.

And the opposing demonstrations indicate the Chinese-Canadian community is far from united in defence of Hong Kong’s China-backed government.

Many of those in the Toronto and Vancouver counter–protests appeared to be visiting mainland Chinese students — one of whom said on social media he was prepared to be deported if necessary — while some at the rally with Chan were paid $100 to attend, according to one community source.

Those supporting the protesters are predominately from Hong Kong, and take to the streets free of any government support, argued Gloria Fung, whose Hong Kong-Canada Link group held the Toronto demonstration.

“We came forward spontaneously, without any vested interest,” she said.

But an organizer of the Toronto counter-protest said he had no backing from the local consulate, and was simply reacting to violence perpetrated by Hong Kong “seditionists.” Excerpts of posts from his group on the Chinese-owned WeChat site were obtained by the National Post.

“Comrades, we have a five thousand year history of honouring our ancestors, pride in our people, unbreakable spirit and I hope everyone can turn out,” said the organizer, calling himself TonY. “We are unlike the Hong Kong seditionists, we don’t have any hidden hand behind us, we have no leaders. All we have are patriotic hearts and patriotic integrity moving us forward.”

In the same WeChat group, a user named Biubiu says before the counter-protest that “We’ve all made preparations to get deported.” Another, called Shele, adds “For country … for party … Always prepared to sacrifice for Communism.”

The protests in Hong Kong have repeatedly seen a million or more people take to the streets over the past 11 weeks. The rallies started as a reaction to a proposed law allowing extradition from the enclave to mainland China, but have expanded to also decry police brutality, and call for democratic reform.

While most of the demonstrations have been peaceful, China and its supporters have seized on those that became violent.

In fact, an unsigned Chinese-language memo circulating on social media offers talking points for people living in foreign countries, said Fung, who believes it is a Communist document. Among other points, the note suggests portraying the protests as a struggle between patriots and separatists, peace and violence and the rule of law and rioting, she said.

Perhaps the strangest manifestation of the pro-China position came on Saturday in Toronto, when several supporters of the Chinese Communist Party showed up in high-priced sports cars, revving their engines as the pro-democracy rally unfolded.

They seemed to be saying “I have money, but I am ‘patriotic. I’m loyal to China,’ ” said Fenella Sung of the group Canadian Friends of Hong Kong. ” ‘We can just roll over you.’ That’s the message.”

According to Chinese-language media reports, the event Chan spoke at on Aug. 12 in Markham, Ont., was partly organized by the Toronto Confederation of Chinese Canadian Organizations, a group that has often worked closely with Beijing’s local consulate.

Coverage of the Aug. 12 event at Markham’s King Square mall includes photographs of a number of Chinese-Canadian organizations, including a purported Tibetan group that Tibetan-community leaders say is essentially a Beijing front.

One source in the Toronto-area Chinese-Canadian community says members of a seniors group were each paid $100 to attend the rally, something the Post could not confirm independently.

Chan’s speech described Hong Kong’s growth from a fishing village to a powerful international business and trade centre, before urging authorities there to take a firm hand with the protests.

Sung said his presence at the event suggests a lack of respect for basic Canadian values of freedom and democracy.

The former Liberal MPP, who resigned before last year’s Ontario election and is now a business adviser for the Miller Thomson law firm, could not be reached for comment.

Reports before the event suggested that Han Dong, another former MPP who is running for the federal Liberal nomination in Don Valley North riding, would also attend. But Dong later issued a statement saying neither he nor anyone on his team was there.

Source: Former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister headlines pro-Beijing rally near Toronto

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

Expect we will continue to see many articles like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open letter from Chinese-Canadian groups boosts Hong Kong government, blasts protesters

Expect we will see more of these debates emerge, some legitimate, some bots, some home-grown, some planted:

As protesters in Hong Kong continue to rally against Beijing’s tightening grip on the city, dozens of Chinese-Canadian groups have delivered a different message, voicing support for the enclave’s China-backed government and singling out violent “extremists” among the demonstrators.

The open letter published recently in Vancouver and Toronto Chinese-language newspapers is raising questions about who was behind the statement, with some fingers pointing at the Chinese government and its influence machine.

The authors of the message deny any outside involvement.

The advertisement, signed by over 200 organizations across the country, complained about radicals causing violence, defended China’s “inalienable” right to control Hong Kong, and appealed to Chinese Canadians’ ethnic identity.

“We support the rule of law and stability in Hong Kong, oppose the violent acts of a small number of extremists, oppose any Hong Kong independence movement … and support the Hong Kong government maintaining law and order,” the letter in Ming Pao newspaper said. “Hong Kong is China’s inalienable sovereign territory; Hong Kong’s affairs are China’s internal affairs; and we oppose any foreign interference.”

The ad marks a contrast to what happened on the streets of Hong Kong itself, where hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated against a law that would have allowed extradition of alleged criminals to mainland China. Critics feared the legislation could be used to dispatch enemies of Beijing to a legal system controlled by the Communist Party. Some observers view the mass protests also as a general pushback against China’s growing control of the city since the U.K. gave up control of it in 1997.

The movement shows little sign of ending soon. Even as Carry Lam, the Beijing-backed chief executive of the Hong Kong government, announced Tuesday the extradition law is now is dead and work on it was a “total failure,” critics expressed skepticism about the government’s intentions.

Why would groups purporting to represent the Chinese diaspora in democratic Canada take sides against such demonstrators?

Many of those signatories are shell groups beholden to Beijing, and the message was likely dictated by China’s representatives here, charges Cheuk Kwan of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China.

“These are basically fake organizations … They are what I call the mouthpieces of the Chinese consulate,” he said. “This is a very clearly United Front effort by the Chinese government … If it’s not instituted directly, then indirectly.”

Kwan was referring to the United Front Work Department, the Chinese Communist Party offshoot that works to influence ethnic Chinese and political and economic elites in other countries. Its role has expanded greatly under current Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Still, he admitted that Chinese Canadians are divided on the Hong Kong protests, with some supporting the demonstrators, and others wishing for a return to civil order.

Fenella Sung, spokesman for Vancouver’s Friends of Hong Kong, agreed that the “linguistic craftiness” of the letter seems typical of the United Front. She pointed especially to its appeal to ethnic nationalism, with statements that Chinese Canadians are “all sons of China and members of the Chinese people,” and “blood is thicker than water.”

There is “not a word about being Canadians, as if they have nothing to do with Canada,” said Sung. “The text of the ad could be used anywhere in the world.”

She also said it blatantly distorted the facts, suggesting protesters caused scores of injuries one day early in the event, when independent human rights groups blamed police action.

Yu Zhuowen of the Chinese Freemasons group in Toronto and one of the organizers of the statement, denied any government was involved, calling the letter a heartfelt appeal to restore peace in Hong Kong, his own hometown.

Yu said protesters misunderstand the extradition legislation — which he argued would protect the city from mainland-based criminals — and faced the same kind of police response they would have in Canada.

“We don’t want to see Hong Kong like this. I have my family in Hong Kong, too, I don’t want them to get hurt,” he said about the demonstrations. “In Canada or America, when the protesters come out, the police get them away right away, they use a lot of violence, too.”

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

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

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

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

Its silence did not go unnoticed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The subtext is very dangerous,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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