Daphne Bramham: Concerns raised about Chinese interference in Canada’s fall election

Of note:

Ivy Li worries that the Chinese Communist Party might be able to affect the outcome of Canada’s fall election using a campaign of disinformation and by silencing critics.

Li is not alone. Li helped organize a recent dialogue that featured Jonathan Manthorpe, author of the best-selling book, The Claws of the Panda: Beijing’s Campaign of Influence and Intimidation in Canada, where she and others talked about their fears and experiences.

Last week, Reporters Sans Frontieres noted its own concerns in a report titled China’s Pursuit of a New World Media Order.

In his book, Manthorpe — the former Vancouver Sun Asia correspondent and foreign affairs columnist — writes that Canada has become “a battleground on which the Chinese Communist Party seeks to terrorize, humiliate and neuter its opponents.”

It is “a war of intimidation and harassment” that seeks to smother, silence or discredit dissenters, especially those from “the Five Poisonous Groups — advocates of independence for Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan, promoters of democracy in China, and adherents of Falun Gong.”

Manthorpe documents how Chinese-language publications in Canada have muzzled and fired journalists and how wealthy Chinese-Canadians with business ties to China and organizations linked to the Chinese government’s United Front have been involved with candidates from various parties in past elections.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there wasn’t a single journalist from the Chinese-language media at the speaking event organized by Friends of Hong Kong and the Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement.

Only one Chinese media representative responded to organizer Fenella Sung’s invitation. But that journalist declined to come. Why? The journalist was leaving soon for China.

Sung noted that the challenges faced by Chinese-Canadians are real because of family and business ties that they may have to China and the fact that the communist party and the Chinese government regard the overseas diaspora as a bloc.

But she said, “We are in Canada. We don’t have to abide by community norms. Here, it’s okay and normal to think differently. … We have to stick to our own values and principles.”

Yet, as both Manthorpe and Reporters Sans Frontieres note, the Chinese government has made substantial investments in international TV broadcasting, foreign media outlets, advertising, and junkets for foreign journalists and politicians. It has embedded the Confucius Institute in schools and universities.

As for social media, the Reporters Sans Frontieres report calls it the new battleground where disinformation is spread by an army of paid and unpaid trolls on the government-linked messaging service WeChat and on micro-blogging sites.

While disinformation campaigns have mainly been directed at Taiwan and Singapore, Reporters Sans Frontieres says WeChat is increasingly being used to spread fake news in Canada and the United States.

In Canada, WeChat initially censored news of the December arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver pending extradition to the United States on fraud charges.

The report says the Chinese government’s expansion into media “poses a direct threat not only to the media but also to democracies.” It goes on to say that unless democracies resist, Chinese citizens will lose all hope of ever seeing press freedom in their country.

And it warns, “Chinese-style propaganda will increasingly compete with journalism outside China, thereby threatening the ability of citizens everywhere to freely choose their destiny.”

Li echoed those fears.

“We can’t succumb to intimidation,” she said. “The more we do it — especially those who are in the Chinese-Canadian media — the more we play into the hands of the (Chinese Communist Party). If we toe the line, we become silent partners of the (party).”

Others spoke about being torn between the country they have chosen and the country where they were born. They talked about fearing reprisals against family they have left behind or the businesses they are running, if they are critical of the Chinese government.

As one of the organizers, Li spoke last. She urged Chinese-Canadians to speak up in support of non-Chinese critics when Chinese officials and their supporters try to silence them with accusations of racism.

In December, China’s ambassador in Ottawa, Lu Shaye, accused Canada and Canadians of “white supremacy” in response to Ottawa’s request for the release of two Canadians detained without charges and held in an unknown location in retaliation for Meng’s arrest.

It was intended as a slap in the face to all Canadians. Instead, it serves as an ironic reminder that everyone in this country has the right to speak openly and critically without fear of reprisal, even if they don’t have diplomatic immunity.

Freedom and democracy is why Li chose Canada and why she urged Chinese-Canadians to be “the leading force to counter (Chinese Communist Party) campaigns of influence and intimidation.”

“Are we protecting the things that we came here for? That’s our responsibility as immigrants,” she said. “Because if we endanger those things, it’s not fair to Canada. And it’s not fair to ourselves.”

Source: Daphne Bramham: Concerns raised about Chinese interference in Canada’s fall election

‘China is your daddy’: Backlash against Tibetan student’s election prompts questions about foreign influence

Disturbing if not surprising:

What might otherwise be the usual mudslinging around a student election has turned into a political firestorm on a Toronto university campus, where a newly-elected student president is raising questions about the source of pro-China attacks against her.

On Saturday morning, Chemi Lhamo, 22, learned she’d been elected student president at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus (UTSC).

By noon, her phone was buzzing incessantly with notifications. But instead of messages of congratulations, Lhamo — a Canadian citizen of Tibetan origin — realized a photo she’d posted on Instagram for the Lunar New Year was attracting thousands of hateful comments, most rife with anti-Tibet sentiment, some threatening.

“China is your daddy — you better know this,” read one comment.

“Ur not gonna be the president of UTSC,” read another. “Even if you do, we will make sure things get done so u won’t survive a day. Peace RIP.”

That wasn’t all. A petition calling on Lhamo to step down had amassed nearly 10,000 signatures.

And there was a message on the Chinese mobile service We Chat making the rounds, calling on Chinese international students to stop Lhamo from becoming president.

The message, posted by the account Ladder Street, said: “The U of T student union is about to be controlled by Tibetan separatists.” The message also says Lhamo shouldn’t benefit from the millions of dollars brought in each year by Chinese students.

A message on the Chinese mobile service We Chat is making the rounds, calling on Chinese international students to stop Lhamo from becoming president. (CBC)

“At first, of course, it takes you aback,” Lhamo said in an interview with CBC News.

“As a leader within the community, it’s heartbreaking to see sometimes that your constituents or your students that you are so passionate about serving are upset about you.”

Foreign influence ‘beyond plausible’

Beyond that, Lhamo said she is worried about her safety and took her concerns to the University of Toronto. On Monday, the students union made the decision to close her office due to security concerns.

The onslaught of hate also has Lhamo questioning whether larger forces might be behind the harassment.

That’s something Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former senior CSIS official for the Asia-Pacific region, said would be entirely consistent with what he observed during his 40 years in the intelligence service.

“I would have expected such a thing … particularly because she’s a young woman who has been actively involved in her circle of free Tibet,” said Juneau-Katsuya, acknowledging he didn’t have definitive proof of foreign influence in Lhamo’s case.

Lhamo’s participation in groups supportive of Tibetan independence from China would have made her a threat in the eyes of the Chinese intelligence services, Juneau-Katsuya said.

Asked if Chinese government forces might be at play in the campaign against Lhamo, Juneau-Katsuya said, “it’s beyond plausible.”

“The university centres have always been a great pull of attraction for either stealing intellectual property or trying to influence politically,” he said.

Academic cautions against ‘hyped-up’ allegations

As an example, Juneau-Katsuya cited the Confucius Institute, a Beijing-run cultural organization which has been criticized as an attempt by the Chinese government to conduct surveillance and extend its political influence.

Over the years, several Confucius Institute programs across Canada and the United States have closed amid concerns about their aims, with the Toronto District School Board voting to end its partnership with the organization in 2014.

“It is their strategy to try to undermine, to try to mute any form of opposition or dissidence that could at one point or another gain access to a mic,” Juneau-Katsuya said.

But at least one academic cautions against making assumptions about the source of the vitriol.

Lynette Ong, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, said that in the wake of the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou and subsequent arrest of two Canadians in China, “public opinion has shifted significantly against the Chinese community.

“It is of utmost importance to separate Chinese students, individuals, companies from the Chinese government,” said Ong. “Given the tense bilateral Canada-China relations now, any hyped-up allegations without firm evidence does no good to any parties.”

Chinese embassy doesn’t respond

The Chinese embassy in Ottawa didn’t respond to questions about the extent of its involvement with student groups on Canadian campuses or whether it has a position on Lhamo’s election.

The Ladder Street, a student group at the University of Toronto Scarborough campus, did not respond to inquiries about whether it was behind the WeChat message or whether it receives support from the Chinese government.

Global Affairs Canada did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Asked if the University of Toronto was investigating the source of the online vitriol against Lhamo, spokesperson Don Campbell said, “We continue to be in touch with the student. The extent of our focus is on making sure she feels safe and is aware of university services available to her.”

Lhamo said she would like to see more action from the university, including a formal investigation.

For now, she said she sees the online attacks against her as an opportunity to put the values she said she was raised with into practice.

“This is my chance … to test myself whether or not I can be patient and have compassion for other entities that don’t necessarily feel the same way towards me.”

Source: ‘China is your daddy’: Backlash against Tibetan student’s election prompts questions about foreign influence