Canada’s visa application centre in Beijing run by Chinese police

Getting a fair amount of attention and concern. Comments by former Canadian Ambassador Guy Saint-Jacques of note:

Chinese police own a company that collects details of people applying for visas to Canada and numerous other countries, giving Beijing security services a direct stake in the processing of private information provided by people planning travel outside China.

Beijing Shuangxiong Foreign Service Company, which operates the Canadian visa-application centre in the Chinese capital, is owned by the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, a Globe and Mail investigation has found. And at least some of the people working inside the centre are members of the Communist Party, recruited from a school that trains the next generation of party elite.

Beijing Shuangxiong is a subcontractor for VFS Global, a company headquartered in Zurich and Dubai that holds a wide-reaching contract to provide visa-processing services around the globe for the Canadian government. VFS offices collect personal and biometric information that is then forwarded to Canadian immigration officials for decisions on who shall be granted visas.

In China, VFS relies on subcontractors to operate its 11 Canadian visa centre locations. The company, which provides visa services for 34 countries in China, says it has strict processes in place to safeguard personal data.

However, the police ownership of the Beijing centre raises questions about the extent to which it is possible for VFS to shield people’s private and confidential information from authorities in a country such as China, which maintains a sweeping and invasive surveillance apparatus, and restricts international travel for some officials and ethnic groups.

Chinese security services “obviously have a huge interest in mining visa data,” said Robert Potter, a cybersecurity consultant in Australia who has worked as an adviser to the Canadian government.

Knowledge of what happens inside a visa centre could have high-level intelligence value. “If you can see who is getting declined and who is getting approved, it gives you a better chance of getting your agent through,” Mr. Potter said.

It could also be used to bar people from leaving China. For some people, like the country’s Muslims, “even applying for a visa to get out of China is enough to get flagged as a terrorist,” he said. “If you’re a Uyghur and you’re applying for a visa to Canada on humanitarian grounds, giving that information to the security service is really dangerous.”

Ward Elcock, a former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said the fact that companies connected to China’s security forces or its government are playing a part in the Canada visa-application process “represents a lazy abdication of our standards to those of a police state.”

VFS Global said in a statement that neither individuals nor operators of the local companies with which it partners are able to gain access to visa-application data.

Other Western countries also use Beijing Shuangxiong, including Britain, Italy, Belgium, Ireland and New Zealand.

VFS Global handles visa services for Canada in at least 83 countries.

The Globe has previously reported that China Investment Corp., one of the biggest state-run financial institutions in the world, is a backer of an investment fund that is VFS’s majority owner. VFS says investors do not have a say in how the company operates.

In Ottawa, opposition parties have urged the federal government to reconsider its contract with VFS. NDP MPs have written to Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino and Public Services Minister Anita Anand to express “serious concerns around the security of information handled by VFS Global.”

VFS, which operates in 144 countries, has said the investment fund “doesn’t have access to any data from VFS Global nor any of its other portfolio companies.”

But the company has developed much closer operational ties with Chinese state-backed companies inside China, The Globe has discovered.

The Shanghai Municipal Education Commission owns 30 per cent of the Canadian visa office in that city. China Travel Services, a large centrally owned company, owns the majority of the centre in Guangzhou. In Jinan, the 93.55-per-cent owner of the subcontracting company is Pei Zhongyi, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a key part of China’s ruling apparatus. People who answered the phone at those locations declined to answer questions.

But the Beijing centre stands out for its proximity to China’s security and political establishment.

Chinese corporate records show that Beijing Shuangxiong is wholly owned by Beijing Tongda Asset Management Group, which is a subsidiary of Beijing Sifu Enterprise Management Office. Corporate records list Beijing Sifu as an arm of the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, the city’s police. A 2017 city of Beijing document describes Beijing Sifu as a work unit of the city’s police.

Asked if police or security services had access to visa-application information, a woman who answered the phone at the Canada Visa Centre in Beijing said she could only discuss visas. Beijing Shuangxiong did not respond to an e-mail request for comment. A receptionist at Beijing Sifu provided a fax number to the Beijing police, which did not respond to a request for comment.

Peter Brun, chief communications officer for VFS Global, said that like many foreign companies, VFS operates with locally owned “facility management companies” to provide visa-application services on the ground. “Individuals or local companies having a stake in the facility management companies you describe have no access to visa-application data. They cannot influence the visa-application process set by the Canadian government,” the VFS official said.

Mr. Brun said all application data are encrypted upon entry and then transferred “securely and directly to servers located in Canada only.” He said only Canadian government officials can gain access to this data.

He said no data are stored in China and the servers processing the applications are located in Canada. Mr. Brun said VFS conducts thorough “credit and criminal record checks on all employees before they are hired” and staff’s e-mail and telecommunications are monitored “for security risks.”

He said the Canadian government either installs or supervises the Immigration department data servers and biometric equipment at the visa-application centres.

Mr. Brun said it has 64 governments as clients around the world including the U.S., Britain and nearly all European Union countries.

Guy Saint-Jacques, who served as Canada’s ambassador to China between 2012 and 2016, said it’s best to assume there is no privacy for visa applications made in China.

“You can bet the Chinese government is interested in knowing who is going to study where abroad, who is going as a tourist and who wants to leave and immigrate,” he said.

Canada’s Department of Citizenship and Immigration is defending the visa-application arrangements it has made in Beijing and throughout China.

“For any foreign company to operate in China, they must be partnered with a local Chinese company, and Canadian contractors are not exempted from this,” department spokesman Rémi Larivière said in a statement. “Canadian officials closely monitor the activities of visa-application centres (VACs) around the world to ensure that our stringent privacy standards are met.”

He said applications are handled “according to Canada’s privacy laws” and the service providers have pledged not to interfere with visa applications. “As set out in the contract, VACs are expressly forbidden from providing any visa-related advice to applicants or from making any type of determination on their application.”

Beijing Shuangxiong dates back to 1993, and describes itself as among the first agencies approved by the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau to provide entry and exit services.

It also has close ties with China’s ruling party.

You Xiangdong, the company’s legal representative and general manager, serves as secretary of its Communist Party branch, and the company has cultivated close ties to Beijing Youth Politics College, a school that has for decades played a foundational role in training new generations of Communist Party leadership.

The college’s English study students have become coveted workers for Beijing Shuangxiong, which has brought many in to work in its visa centres. In a report on the partnership, the company said it valued the political reliability of students from the school.


Alan Freeman: Boycotting the 2022 Winter Games should be one way Canada sticks it to China

Extremely hard on the athletes but valid approach if done in concert with other countries:

The Pew Research Center this week came out with some shocking, yet unsurprising, numbers. China’s reputation is in free fall around the world.

According to Pew, a majority of respondents in every one of 14 nations surveyed had a negative view of China. In nine of the countries, including Canada, negative views are at the highest point since the respected research institute began polling on the question more than a decade ago.

In Canada, 73 per cent of respondents had a negative view of China in 2020, compared with only 27 per cent back in 2007.

China’s human-rights abuses against the Uyghurs and other minorities, its attack on democracy in Hong Kong, and its assertive territorial claims in the South China Sea have had an impact.

For Canadians, these bully tactics have a particular edge after the kidnapping and imprisonment on trumped-up charges of our fellow citizens, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

What to do? We all know there’s a crowd of well-connected China-appeasers here who want to start hostage talks with Beijing, and are willing to trade away not just Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, but our self-respect, in the naive hope that the two Michaels will be freed. Thankfully, the Trudeau government has kiboshed that idea.

Furthermore, we’re now seeing more signs that our government realizes Canadians are paying attention and don’t want to roll over in the face of China’s aggressiveness. According to the Globe and Mail, Canada has quietly begun accepting pro-democracy activists from Hong Kong as “Convention refugees,” individuals with a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion or political opinion.

Beijing won’t be happy.

That follows Canada’s earlier suspension of its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, a ban on exports of sensitive goods to Hong Kong, and a suggestion it could soon boost immigration from the beleaguered former British colony. It’s clearly not enough.

What else can we do? Well, look at the calendar. In just 16 months’ time, Beijing is due to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, another opportunity for China to strut itself as a superpower, the way it used the 2008 Summer Games to make a big splash.

How can we even contemplate sending the cream of our athletes, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looking on, and watching them gleefully enter Beijing’s Olympic Stadium for glitzy opening ceremonies while Canadians remain behind bars in a Chinese prison?

There is an alternative. This week, the British foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, suggested that if evidence continues to mount that the rights of Uyghur Muslims are being trampled, the U.K. will consider boycotting the Games. “Generally speaking, my instinct is to separate sport from diplomacy and politics, but there comes a point when this is not possible,” Raab told a parliamentary committee.

In Australia, where anti-China sentiments are even more ingrained than in Canada, Parliament will soon be asked to support a boycott of the Games. “The time has come for the freedom-loving countries to say to Beijing: ‘Enough is enough,’ ” according to an Australian Liberal senator, Eric Abetz. He also wondered why individual Australian athletes would want to lend their credibility to such a regime.

Easy for the U.K. and Australia to say no to Beijing 2022, you might say. They’re hardly a presence at the Winter Games, winning only a few medals apiece in a good year. Canada, on the other hand, is a Winter Olympics powerhouse, earning the No. 3 spot in the medal take in 2018 in South Korea.

All the more reason for us to boycott. The Winter Olympics is one place where we can make a difference. If Canada could convince Norway, Germany, the U.S., Netherlands and South Korea to pull out of the Games (the top six performers in Korea), China would be stuck with a shell of an Olympic Games. It means we have a chance to make a real difference.

I reached out to Guy St-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, and asked him for his views. “It is now impossible to remain ambivalent on China, knowing what they are doing in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, the South China Sea, etc., and the way they have punished Canada for the arrest of Meng Wanzhou,” he told me.

St-Jacques said Canada should adopt a concerted approach with our allies, and threaten an Olympic boycott “if they don’t allow a UN delegation to go to Xinjiang to investigate the situation of the Uyghurs, repeal the National Security Law (in Hong Kong), or suspend its application and free the two Michaels.”

China needs to be reminded that if it wants to play a larger role on the world stage, it has to abide by international laws and treaties and stop acting the bully, including by engaging in hostage diplomacy, he said.

For those who argue that the Games are above politics, that’s clearly hogwash. The Olympics have been subject to political machinations since the beginning, and authoritarian regimes going back to Hitler’s Germany in 1936 have used them to legitimize their unsavoury policies.

Boycotts have been done before. In 1980, Canada joined a stream of Western countries and boycotted the Games in Moscow. And the 1976 Montreal Games was hit by a walkout of African nations in protest of apartheid in South Africa.

Standing up to a bully exacts a price. Not watching Team Canada play for gold in hockey or curling at Beijing in February 2022 should be a price Canadians are willing to pay.

Source: Boycotting the 2022 Winter Games should be one way Canada sticks it to China

Chinese diplomat accuses critics of sowing division among Chinese Canadian community

As if Chinese diplomats are not themselves sowing divisions:

A Chinese diplomat is accusing Canadians who criticize Beijing’s new Hong Kong security law of trying to sow discord among people of Chinese origin in Canada.

Tong Xiaoling, China’s consul-general in Vancouver, told a Chinese-language radio program in Vancouver this week that pro-democracy activists in Canada who criticize the new security law enacted in Hong Kong are trying to foist their views on people who support Beijing’s move. Her interview was broadcast over Monday and Tuesday.

She said a “very few people, in both Hong Kong and local [Canada], have been maliciously denigrating and sabotaging Hong Kong’s national security legislation,” and she accused them of colluding with “anti-China forces” and trying to cause “trouble” overseas.

“Some people were trying to intimidate people who truly care about Hong Kong, stop them from voicing [their opinions] and launch personal attacks on them. [They] also try to create divisions in the ethnically Chinese community and sabotage China-Canada relations,” Ms. Tong said to Vancouver radio station 1320 AM, which bills itself as the “voice of Vancouver’s Chinese community.”

Ms. Tong proceeded to list various members of the Chinese community in Vancouver: those from Hong Kong, from Macau, from mainland China and the self-governing island of Taiwan.

Canadian activists for democracy in Hong Kong say that’s an unusual thing for a foreign government official to be concerned about. It’s not the Chinese government’s business to be actively concerned with the opinion of Canadians of Chinese origin, they say.

The Beijing-drafted national security law punishes what China broadly defines as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison. Critics of the law fear it will crush the wide-ranging freedoms promised to the territory when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997, including the right to protest and an independent legal system. Supporters of the law say it will bring stability after last year’s often-violent anti-government and anti-China unrest.

Vancouver has been home to a number of rallies against the new national security law Beijing imposed on Hong Kong, including demonstrations outside Oakridge Centre and the local Chinese consulate.

Cherie Wong, executive director for Alliance Canada Hong Kong, an umbrella group for Hong Kong pro-democracy advocates in this country, said the Chinese government acts as though it has a proprietary claim on people of Chinese origin in Canada.

“Why would a foreign diplomat care about what the Chinese Canadian community thinks? It’s because the Chinese Communist Party feels a level of ownership over ethnically Chinese individuals,” Ms. Wong said.

“The accusation that we are dividing Chinese people is in fact reinforcing the idea that we are a monolith, which is very much incorrect. It’s part of the same propaganda, erasing the differences in political opinions.”

Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to Beijing, said that in his opinion the Chinese government devotes a lot of resources to try to shape the opinions of ethnically Chinese communities in foreign countries in the hope of influencing public policy. “The message is repeated all the time: Don’t forget the Motherland.”

He said Ms. Tong’s comments reflect a more assertive brand of Chinese foreign policy. “She should be reminded that Canadians are Canadians: We don’t make a distinction between Canadians of Chinese origin and Canadians of British origin.”

Members of the House of Common’s special Canada-China committee, meanwhile, are meeting this week to consider holding hearings on the new Hong Kong security law.

“Conservatives proposed months ago for the Canada-China Committee to reconvene for intensive study of the horrific and deteriorating situation in Hong Kong. A lot of time has been lost in the interim, and it is all the more urgent now for us to hold intensive hearings on the situation in Hong Kong,” Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, a member of the committee, said.

Ms. Tong told 1320 AM that the national security bill was designed to bring calm to Hong Kong. Mass protests began in mid-2019 over proposed legislative changes that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China. This civil disobedience later evolved into demands for greater democracy and autonomy.

She blamed foreign governments and even the self-ruled island of Taiwan for encouraging this disobedience.

She also said she understands some overseas Chinese people have expressed concerns over the new law, worrying that it will violate Hong Kong people’s rights and freedoms, but blamed biased media reports and foreign politicians for their concerns.

She said the law will target only a tiny minority of people who sabotage Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability and the national security.

“If you do not break such law, and aren’t involved in these activities, why do you need to worry about your safety?”

Source: Chinese diplomat accuses critics of sowing division among Chinese Canadian community

Parliamentary association chair defends Canada-China group as critics call for its suspension

Engage for what purpose when the two Michaels are still detained under awful conditions, repression of religious minorities such as the Uighurs continue, and China proceeds to end Hong Kong’s autonomy.

Wilful naiveté at best. Arguments mirror those used by the International Metropolis Secretariat to justify the holding of Metropolis in Beijing that our petition successfully cancelled.

These kinds of contacts should be suspended until the Michaels are released at a minimum:

As Beijing’s behaviour grows increasingly strong-willed and the Canada-China relationship continues to flounder, some are calling for the suspension of a parliamentary association between the two countries, while one of the co-chairs says the group facilitates dialogue.

The 50-member Canadian-side of the Canada-China Legislative Association, which was founded in 1998, is composed of MPs and Senators who work to “promote better understanding” in the bilateral relationship on both common interests and differences.

“There’s so much to be gained from maintaining that discussion,” Independent Senator Paul Massicotte (De Lanaudière, Que.) told The Hill Times. “We have an immense interest in this relationship—[from a] human rights point of view, economically, future growth, climate change. There’s so much to gain from our relationship, in spite of the fact that we have serious disagreements about some key issues.”

Sen. Massicotte is one of two co-chairs of the Canada-China Legislative Association. Liberal MP Han Dong (Don Valley North, Ont.), the group’s other co-chair, didn’t respond to an interview request.

“Its [purpose is] to be frank and chat with each other and maintain as good relations as we can, in spite of possible differences—in this case, serious differences between our approach as a country and our value system and their thought pattern,” Sen. Massicotte said about the association. “But just because you disagree with somebody doesn’t mean you put an end to it.”

He said if the association is suspended, the dialogue between the two countries would be damaged.

Macdonald-Laurier Institute fellow Shuvaloy Majumdar called for the association’s suspension in a National Post op-ed last week, citing China’s National Party Congress’ imposition of a national security law on Hong Kong which threatens the “one country, two systems” foundation of the region.

“Canadian Parliament has no business legitimizing the masquerade of Beijing’s National Party Congress as it institutionally represses Hong Kong’s Legislative Council and constitutional rights,” wrote Mr. Majumdar, a former policy director to multiple foreign affairs ministers in the government of then-prime minister Stephen Harper.

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne (Saint-Maurice-Champlain, Que.) released a joint statement last week with his counterparts in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, calling the imposition of the national security law “a deep concern” and “in direct conflict with its international obligations under the principles of the legally-binding, UN-registered Sino-British Joint Declaration.”

Mr. Majumdar told The Hill Times that the parliamentary association gives the Chinese Communist Party “unrivalled access to lobby Canadian Parliamentarians.”

“If you were interested in the spirit of dialogue with the Chinese people, then why not also pursue similar arrangements with Hong Kong’s Legislative Council or with Taiwan’s Parliament in conjunction with the National Party Congress?” he noted. “That’s not happened. So this is not about dialogue.”

Mr. Majumdar added that China’s National Congress has “broken faith” with the sprit of “honest dialogue” with the imposition of the national security law on Hong Kong and that they are “subverting and distorting” an understanding of China in Canada that is coming at the cost of Canadian interests.

“It ought not to be tolerated.”

Sen. Massicotte, who met with Chinese Ambassador Cong Peiwu alongside Mr. Dong on Feb. 26, said he raises the issues of disagreement in all the meetings the association has with Chinese officials.

“You can do it politely,” he said. “You can raise up issues that you don’t agree on, but you don’t have to be disagreeable.”

“Usually we’ll say we agree to disagree because we don’t have the same starting point or same culture. We don’t brush over our differences,” said Sen. Massicotte, calling discussions with the Chinese ambassador “very cordial.”

Conservative MP Michael Cooper (St. Albert-Edmonton, Alta.), vice-chair of the Canada-China Legislative Association, said there should be a consideration to the association’s role going forward.

“I think we do need to review the activities of the legislative association,” he said. “Does that mean suspending the association? Perhaps. But we need to have those discussions in light of what needs to be and what will be a different relationship between Canada and China, at least in the short and intermediate term, as a result of the fallout of COVID-19 and the unlawful actions the Chinese Communist regime has taken against Hong Kong.”

Mr. Cooper said that there needs to be an overall evaluation of Canada’s bilateral relationship with China stemming from how Beijing handled the COVID-19 pandemic, including the use of Magnitsky sanctions on Chinese officials who were involved in “silencing and jailing whistleblowers” in the early days of the virus’ outbreak and officials “involved in the cover-up” of the pandemic.

He said the parliamentary association has not met as an executive since the start of the year.

“So at this point, the association, speaking as an executive, has been inactive,” Mr. Cooper said.

Debate over parliamentary group comes at tipping point for Canada-China relations

It was feared that a B.C. court judge ruling against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou last week on a “double criminality” principle, which continued her extradition trial, would further inflame tensions between Canada and China.

The Chinese Communist Party-supported Global Times stated that the decision would bring about the “worst-ever” period in the bilateral relationship. So far, retaliation has been muted, as reported by The Globe and Mail, with a Chinese government spokesperson commenting on the 50thanniversary of Canada-China relations

Ms. Meng was arrested in December 2018 at the behest of the United States. The arrest of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in China soon followed in apparent retaliation. The two Canadians have been detained by Chinese authorities ever since.

The parliamentary association took a trip to China in January 2019 shortly after the arrests of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, during which then-co-chair and now-retired senator Joseph Day said the detained Canadians were not on the agenda. Mr. Cooper, who was also on the trip, brought the cases up and said raising the issues didn’t help “in the sense that they are still in China,” but added at the same time that discussing the issue “did not hurt.”

Former Canadian ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques, who served in the post from 2012 to 2016, said the Canada-China Legislative Association “can be useful.”

He added that it takes “a bit of guts” for Canadian Parliamentarians to raise contentious issues with Chinese authorities, noting that he has experienced foreign affairs ministers that were reticent to raise contentious issues with China.

“If it’s properly managed, we should proceed,” he said. “But, on the other hand, if something dramatic were to occur in Hong Kong, I think we will have to think about sanctions against China and then maybe the suspension of those [association] visits would be required.”

“The key is preparation,” said Mr. Saint-Jacques of when Canadian Parliamentarians in the association travel to China.

He said that when he was ambassador he would “regularly” meet with the members of the association when he returned to Ottawa to give briefings on important issues and prepare them for upcoming trips.

When the group arrived in China, the visit would start with a breakfast at the embassy to give the MPs and Senators the latest information that Canadian diplomats in China have collected before they met with Chinese officials, he said.

With Parliamentarians from many different parties and political ideologies, Mr. Saint-Jacques said it gives the Chinese officials an insight into the Canadian system where politicians don’t speak with one voice, unlike in the Chinese system.

While he said that the association can serve to legitimize the National Congress, it is better than the alternative of no contact.

“If you have no contacts, then you leave them to think that things work the same way here than over there,” he said.

Brock University professor Charles Burton, a former counsellor at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing, said he has long been calling for the suspension of the association.

“I feel that we are being played by the Communist Party in this association,” said Prof. Burton, a Macdonald-Laurier Institute fellow.

He said the parliamentary association serves as a way for the Chinese government to establish “moral equivalency” between Canada’s Parliament and China’s non-democratic National Congress.

“The Members of Parliament who go have a very pleasant time in China with delicious banquets and interesting tourism … but I don’t see it as furthering the interest of Canada in any way,” he said.

Prof. Burton said Parliamentarians can engage with Chinese diplomats in Canada through other forums such as the Special House Committee on Canada-China Relations.

“Typically, Parliamentarians don’t have the expertise to represent Canada’s position effectively and tend to be put into photo-ops and make joint statements that support the Chinese Communist Party’s agenda in Canada,” he said.

Since the creation of the association, there has been no adoption of democratic reform in the National Congress, Prof. Burton said, adding that the group hasn’t had “any positive impact” on fostering the development of parliamentary democracy in China.

Source: Parliamentary association chair defends Canada-China group as critics call for its suspension

Working with China can’t be at the expense of our values or the rule of law

Good opinion piece by former ambassador Guy Saint-Jacques:

“Canada is China’s best friend,” former Chinese premier Zhu Rongji famously said in November, 1998. There was then a heavy flow of visitors in both directions and a genuine desire in China to move forward with the rule of law and gradual democracy. Its impending entry into the World Trade Organization was going to result in more business opportunities and more contacts with the outside world, which would help China move in the right direction. Well, that plan didn’t work.

Instead, China has become more assertive and aggressive – certain that maintaining an authoritarian regime is the best way for the Communist Party of China (CCP) to survive and protect the privileges of its princelings and their families. Technological development has enabled the CCP to better limit freedom of speech and religion, while silencing calls for a more transparent political process.

When Xi Jinping became the paramount leader in November, 2012, he gave a new impetus to this model. He declared that the time had come for China to take its rightful place on the international scene, placing its people in prominent international organizations, creating its own institutions and launching the Belt and Road Initiative to increase its sphere of influence (and the size of its markets). At the 19th CPC Congress in October, 2017, Mr. Xi went further by underlining the economic success China had achieved without adopting Western values.

In terms of its relationship with China, Canada has gradually lost influence. We are now China’s 21st export market, and China has lost hope in concluding a free-trade agreement with us, which would have been its first with a G7 country. This potential agreement was our last bargaining chip. Despite repeated warnings about Mr. Xi’s tightening grip on Chinese society, and events such as the arrests of Kevin and Julia Garratt in August, 2014, some of the political class in Ottawa remained ambivalent about China.

All this changed after the arrests of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in retaliation for the arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in December, 2018. The successful campaign to get international support for Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor’s release took Beijing by surprise and tarnished its image of a benevolent superpower that pretends to be the new champion of multilateralism and free trade. Even still, Ottawa decided to adopt an appeasement strategy, hoping that it would lead to the release of our two Canadians.

A year and a half later, what has been achieved? There has been no improvement in the detention conditions of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, and we lost $4.5-billion in exports in 2019, with a further 16-per-cent drop in the first quarter of this year. We expressed little criticism of what is happening to Uyghurs in Xinjiang and pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong. We were late to support Australia’s resolution for an independent investigation of the COVID-19 pandemic. And we tolerate Chinese interference on Canadian campuses, not to mention continuing industrial espionage. China has succeeded in getting us to exercise self-censorship without ever giving us anything in return. The way China handled the new coronavirus pandemic confirmed how the CCP functions. Simply put, China has lost the trust of the international community.

After the decision by Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes in the case of Ms. Meng, we have to brace ourselves for the fact that relations with China won’t improve for a long time. The extradition process may drag on for years unless it is decided after a June hearing that Ms. Meng’s rights were not respected when she was arrested.

It is high time for the Canadian government to adopt a much firmer attitude with China: That is the only language the CCP respects. As Paul Monk put it in the Australian on May 16, “We have nothing to hope for from [Mr. Xi] and must accustom ourselves to playing economic and strategic hardball, because it is the way he is playing the game.”

We should continue to work with like-minded countries to put pressure on China to free the two Michaels and to reinforce a multilateral system. The message should be clear: We want a constructive relationship with a prospering China and constructive change inside China – as long as it respects international laws and treaties and stops acting like a bully when a country does not follow its diktats. We can also take domestic measures to make China realize that while we may be insignificant to them, there is still a price to pay. Finally, we need to build up our China competencies to better inform our dealings with the CCP’s leadership.

Freeland mum on whether Hong Kong asylum seekers will be granted refuge as bigger wave predicted

Hard to see why these claims would not be accepted by the IRB:

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, asked about dozens of asylum claims made by Hong Kong protesters in Canada, praised the rich contribution immigrants from this former British colony have made to this country but declined to indicate whether Ottawa would grant the applicants refuge.

Ms. Freeland told media Monday that while she can’t comment on specific asylum claims, which she said need to be adjudicated “very carefully and very thoughtfully,” Canadians agree that migrants from Hong Kong have been a boon for this country.

“Canada has benefited hugely from the immigration of people from Hong Kong to Canada. They contribute tremendously to our society and I think all of us are very glad that so many people from Hong Kong have chosen to make their home and their lives here,” Ms. Freeland said.

As the Globe and Mail first reported Monday, 46 Hong Kong citizens – many of whom took part in the massive demonstrations that began last year as China tightened its grip on the Asian city – are seeking asylum in Canada, citing harassment and brutality at the hands of police and fear of unjust prosecution.

This may only be the start of a bigger wave of asylum seekers, experts say.

Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian diplomat, and Richard Kurland, an immigration lawyer and immigration policy analyst with extensive experience in dealing with Asian migration, both say these cases are likely the beginning of a surge in refugee claims from Hong Kong as political turmoil there continues.

The 46 would-be refugees from Hong Kong applied for asylum claims between Jan 1, 2019, and March 31, 2020. The claims, which are all pending, were received at airports, Canada Border Security Agency bureaus and Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada offices (IRCC) across the country. Many of those claiming asylum in Canada face charges in Hong Kong in connection with the protests.

Wenran Jiang, an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, said Canada should proceed cautiously. “If Ottawa officially encourages and offers political asylum to protesters in Hong Kong, even [if] some of them clearly broke the law by being violent, Beijing is likely to interpret such a move as interfering in China’s domestic affairs, leading to adding more chill to an already cold-bilateral relationship.”

Canada’s relations within China deteriorated significantly in late 2018 after Ottawa arrested a Chinese high-tech executive on a U.S. extradition request and Beijing, in what was widely seen as retaliation, locked up two Canadians – former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor.

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, who sits on the House of Commons Canada-China committee, said there are valid reasons for granting asylum to pro-democracy activists from Hong Kong. He said he hopes Canada doesn’t turn away these claimants for fear of offending China.

“The adjudication of asylum claims is an independent process and certainly determination should never be influenced by politics or fears of political retaliation,” he said. “We should absolutely be accepting asylum claims on their merit and … based on what I have heard about these claims there is a strong case to be made for their merit given the human rights abuses that we know of in Hong Kong.”

Mr. Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, agrees that Beijing would be displeased if Canada were to grant asylum to Hong Kong pro-democracy advocates, but he also says they merit refuge.

“Given what is happening in Hong Kong and the fact that China is encroaching more and more on the rights of Hong Kong citizens …. clearly these people have a legitimate [reason] to think that their rights will not be respected,” he said.

Mr. Saint-Jacques said he expects there will be a large influx of people coming from Hong Kong in the months ahead, including many of the 300,000 residents of the Asian city who hold Canadian passports.

“I think these people would make a good contribution [to Canada] but the big dilemma for the federal government is that this is happening at the time when we need China’s goodwill to supply medical equipment we are desperate for,” he said.

Mr. Kurland said he thinks the 46 asylum claims may be the beginning of a rise in refugee applicants from Hong Kong.

“There may be legs to this,” he said. “Planning for a sudden climb in Hong Kong refugee claim numbers is prudent.”

Today, as many as 500,000 Canadians of Hong Kong descent live in Canada, according to Hong Kong Watch.

Source: Freeland mum on whether Hong Kong asylum seekers will be granted refuge as bigger wave predicted

Liberal government’s ‘almost humiliating’ posture toward China a missed opportunity: former top diplomat

ICYMI. While David Mulroney is the more “hardline” of the two, the fundamental message from Guy Saint-Jacques is the same:

Two former diplomats are warning that the Liberal government’s recent silence on China could reinforce the country’s increasingly belligerent actions on the world stage, amid concerns Chinese officials actively misled the World Health Organization during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

David Mulroney, who served as Canadian ambassador to China in Beijing between 2009 and 2012, said Ottawa’s “almost humiliating” posture toward China in recent weeks was a missed opportunity to acknowledge the country’s shortcomings during the viral outbreak.

China has drawn criticism for providing potentially faulty information to the WHO, particularly in the first weeks of the spread of COVID-19, which in turn left world leaders largely ill-prepared for the virus.

Guy Saint-Jacques, who served as Canada’s envoy to China from 2012 to 2016, said leaders in Canada and elsewhere need to call for a full investigation of the WHO after it uncritically relayed information from Beijing observers claim could be inaccurate.

He also denounced recent “reprehensible” comments by Health Minister Patty Hajdu, who dismissed claims about faulty Chinese reporting as “conspiracy theories” that originated “on the Internet.”

Mulroney said the recent silence by Ottawa is part of a long-standing instinct to gloss over Chinese aggressions, largely due to its tendency to retaliate and its growing economic heft. But an unwillingness to acknowledge even the possibility of Chinese misdeeds could sow public distrust.

“Ottawa can’t seem to shake this tendency to flatter,” he said in an interview with the National Post.

“I’m not suggesting that we need to insult China or provoke a quarrel. We should simply be guided by the facts. And right now the facts argue for the case that China was delinquent, that it wasn’t transparent enough. That’s not a conspiracy theory.”

“When you start acknowledging the truth, then positive and corrective action is possible. As long as you’re in denial, there’s no hope of action that will ameliorate the situation. This is a tremendous missed opportunity and it’s not too late for the government to slowly turn the ship around,” Mulroney said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has batted away repeated questions about the WHO this week, after U.S. President Donald Trump said he would withdraw funding from the organization.

Then on Thursday, Trudeau came closer to acknowledging some of the criticisms of China and the WHO, saying “there have been questions asked” about the organization, “but at the same time it is really important that we stay coordinated as we move through this.”

Both former ambassadors said Trump’s threat to immediately pull funding from the WHO would needlessly and dangerously cripple the organization at a critical time.

Saint-Jacques, who acknowledged that Ottawa is in a “delicate” position with regards to China, said world leaders should call for a thorough review of the WHO’s handling of the pandemic once it is under control.

“You have to draw a line,” Saint-Jacques said. “You have to stop such behaviour. You have to acknowledge that if you dealt with this issue with a lot more transparency we would have avoided an international crisis that has led to one of the greatest recessions of our times.”

The Trudeau government has repeatedly been forced to navigate tense relations with China, particularly after Canadian authorities arrested the chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies in 2018, at the request of the U.S.

An attempt by Trudeau early in his leadership to forge a free trade deal with the country quickly evaporated, after Chinese officials made it clear that they were disinterested in certain “progressive” elements put forward by Canada, including proposals around environmental policy and gender-based analysis.

“Cabinet did not fully realize what I call the dark side of China,” Saint-Jacques said of the trade mission.

Criticism of the WHO began in earnest on Jan. 14, when Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the organization, tweeted a message nearly identical to that of the Chinese government, saying researchers “have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission” of the coronavirus.

By Jan. 20 Chinese officials finally confirmed that the virus could indeed spread through human contact, and shut down the city of Wuhan, where the virus originated. Another week passed before the WHO declared a public health emergency.

On Feb. 6, weeks after the body had designated a public health emergency, the organization issued a press release calling on countries to avoid imposing travel bans or “medically unnecessary restrictions” against China, saying such moves could “fuel racism” against the country.

Those directives were absorbed by national governments around the world, who were in turn caught off guard by the scope and nature of COVID-19.

The WHO’s director-general has dismissed much of the criticism of his organization as unnecessary “politicization” of the issue, but he has said the virus exposed some shortcomings at the United Nations group.

“No doubt, areas for improvement will be identified and there will be lessons for all of us to learn. But for now, our focus — my focus — is on stopping this virus and saving lives.”

Source: Liberal government’s ‘almost humiliating’ posture toward China a missed opportunity: former top diplomat

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

Good commentary from our former ambassador:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A ‘friend of China’ no more: Why a longtime Canadian ally has become one of Beijing’s fierce critics

Good profile and account of her realization that she needed to speak out regarding the need for a reset of Canada-China relations, with Canada needing to take a harder line:

It was 1979 and Beijing was in the midst of its first democracy movement. Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, then a civil servant in the Ontario government opening up after decades of isolation from the outside world.

The Xidan democracy wall, part of a peaceful public outburst against the Communist Party of China, was in full swing and McCuaig-Johnston had been following the story in Canadian media.

“I had never even thought of China. It was not on my radar at all, but this sounded really interesting,” she said. “So, my husband and I went over to China.”

At the time, only group tours were allowed, so she made the trip with the University of Toronto Alumni Association and even managed a trip to see the democracy wall in Beijing, which hosted messages of hope and reform from the mainland Chinese people. From there, McCuaig-Johnston travelled the country and decided to do a master’s degree in international relations focused on China.

For the next 40 years, including working as a civil servant, she collaborated to advance the relationship between Canada and China. Part of her work meant helping China develop its science and technology programs during its reform period.

Eventually, McCuaig-Johnston would become the vice-president of the Canada-China friendship association and consider herself a “friend of China,” a common expression used for those who support partnerships and engagement with Beijing.

But everything changed last December.

That’s when Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese tech giant Huawei, was arrested. She had been passing through Vancouver’s airport when she was detained on a warrant request from the United States. The arrest sparked a firestorm that has torched relations between China and Canada.

McCuaig-Johnston said she’d already had concerns about the direction Beijing was taking on human rights, particularly regarding internment camps for Muslims in the Xinjiang province, as well as the country’s increasing aggression in the South China Sea.

But what galvanized those concerns was the detention without charges of two Canadian citizens, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who remain in Chinese custody months later. Another two Canadians were sentenced to death for drug convictions, which have not been carried out. Shortly after, Beijing levelled sanctions against Canadian pork and beef.

After decades spent facilitating China’s enhanced ties to Canada, McCuaig-Johnston returned to her hotel room in Shanghai the same week Kovrig and Spavor were arrested to find her locked luggage had been unlocked and rummaged through.

She said she believes it was Chinese authorities because nothing was taken. Then a local business acquaintance told her he had heard authorities had a list of 100 Canadians they could detain and interrogate at any time. McCuaig-Johnston had reached her limit.

“When I came home, I decided to speak out,” she said.

Since then, McCuaig-Johnston has written five editorials in national newspapers critical of China, given 30 interviews and recently published Dragon at the Door through the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. The paper calls for Canada to conduct a reset of relations with Beijing, insisting Ottawa to take a harder line.

“Up until January, I had never done an interview in my life,” she said. “But I feel it’s important that friends of China — former friends of China — speak out about this.”

Her paper suggests pulling out of China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, using so-called Magnitsky legislation to punish Hong Kong officials who abuse human rights, or sending pandas now living at the Calgary Zoo back to China early. Canada must also pivot to an Indo-Pacific economic strategy, she argued.

Foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole agreed with measures laid out in the paper, but suggested the Liberal government seems unwilling to take such strong action.

“We are rolling over, we are acquiescing, at a time when Chinese aggression is on the rise,” O’Toole said. “We should be working with like-minded allies to send a real signal that such conduct is not condoned.

If keeping quiet and friendly were going to work with China, Spavor and Kovrig “would have been released months ago,” he said.

On Friday, China’s new ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, urged Canada to not pass legislation similar to the United States’ sanctioning China and Hong Kong officials who abuse human rights. The bill is in support of students in the special administrative region who have been protesting for months. About 300,000 Canadians live in Hong Kong.

Cong said it could cause “very bad damage” if Canada were to use similar legislation.

The Liberal government had issued no response to those comments by press time Friday.

Observers have noted that many advisers around the Liberal government have ties and interests in China, including new ambassador to Beijing, Dominic Barton, and McCuaig-Johnston was once among the ranks of such business people, academics and bureaucrats.

But though “friends of China” may express outrage at China behind closed doors, many have told her they will not do so in public for fear of losing their privileges in the country.

In January, more than 140 academics and diplomats around the world signed a letter demanding China release Kovrig and Spavor. But just six Canadian academics signed while another six former Canadian ambassadors to China also signed.