ICYMI – Douglas Todd: China’s long surveillance arm thrusts into Canada

Chinese students understandably do not wish to be openly critical of the Chinese government. But it is another matter when they try to shut down or intimidate persons critical of China or Chinese policies:

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The only hope is this culture of watchfulness doesn’t always work. A University of B.C. professor who specializes in Asia tells me how an apparent culture of subjugation is playing out on campus.

The majority of the many students from China that the professor comes across are self-censoring.

They don’t go to possibly contentious events about China. They don’t speak out in classes. A few patriotic ones feel it’s their duty to criticize the professor for exposing them to material that does not hold the world’s most populous country in a positive light. A few very privately offer the faculty member their thanks for the chance to hear the truth.

“Mostly, however, I find my undergrads in particular to be profoundly uninterested in politics and proud of their country’s rise,” said the professor, who, like many academic specialists on China these days, spoke on condition of anonymity. Metro Vancouver campuses host almost 50,000 of the more than 180,000 students from China in Canada.

Mandarin-language students in Canada are “the major beneficiaries of the rise” of China, said the professor. “They don’t want to rock the boat and the more aware ones are discreet about their critiques. They have decided to tread carefully, which suggests a consciousness that they could be under surveillance.”

If that is the look-over-your-shoulder reality for students from China in B.C., imagine how it is for those on some American and Ontario campuses, which have had high-profile outbreaks of angry pro-China activism.

National Post reporter Tom Blackwell has covered China’s recent interference in Canadian affairs. He’s dug into how University of Toronto student president Chemi Lhamo was barraged with a 11,000-name petition from people with Chinese names, demanding she be removed. Raised in Tibet, which China dominates, Lhamo was also targeted by hundreds of nasty texts, which Toronto police are investigating as possibly criminal threats.

A similar confrontation occurred in February at McMaster University in Hamilton, where five Chinese student groups protested the university’s decision to give a platform to a Canadian citizen of Muslim Uyghur background. Rukiye Turdush had described China’s well-documented human-rights abuses against more than a million Uyghurs in the vast province of Xinjiang in China.

The animosity and harassment is escalating. Even longtime champions of trade and investment in Canada from China and its well-off migrants are taken aback. Ng Weng Hoong, a commentator on the Asian-Pacific energy industry, is normally a vociferous critic of B.C.’s foreign house buyer tax and other manifestations of Canadian sovereignty.

But Ng admitted in a recent piece in SupChina, a digital media outlet, that Chinese protesters’ in Ontario “could shift Canadians’ attitude toward China to one of outright disdain and anger at what they see is the growing threat of Chinese influence in their country.”

It certainly didn’t help, Ng notes, that the Chinese embassy in Ottawa supported the aggressive protesters. “The story of Chinese students’ silencing free speech and undermining democracy in Canada,” Ng said, “will only fuel this explosive mix of accusations.”

Some of the growing mistrust among Canadians and others has emerged from multiplying reports of propaganda and surveillance in China.

China’s president, Xi Jinping, is attempting to control followers through a dazzling new app, with which China’s Communist Party members are expected to actively engage. The New York Times is reporting China has been swabbing millions of Uyghur Muslims for their DNA, with human rights activists maintaining the genetic samples could be used to track down those not already sent to “re-education” camps.

China’s pressure tactics are also coming down on journalists. The Economist reports students from China trying to enrol in Hong Kong’s journalism school are being warned against it by their fearful parents. They’re begging their offspring to shun a truth-seeking career that would lead to exposing wrongdoing in China, which could result in grim reprisals against the entire family.

Within the Canadian media realm there are also growing private reports that Mandarin-language Chinese journalists at various news outlets across this country are being called into meetings with China’s officials, leading some Chinese reporters to ask editors to remove their bylines from stories about the People’s Republic of China and its many overseas investors.

It’s always wise to be wary of superpowers. But China’s actions are cranking suspicion up to new levels. Compared to the flawed United States, which somehow still manages to win grudging admirers around the world, China’s surveillance tactics are making it almost impossible for that country to develop soft power with any appeal at all.

While some observers say many of the people of China are primed for more reform, openness and media freedom, it’s clear the leaders of China have in the past year been going only backwards, intent on more scrutiny and repression.

Source: Douglas Todd: China’s long surveillance arm thrusts into Canada