Kolga: Criticism of the Chinese government’s handling of coronavirus is not racism

Good distinction between criticism of the Chinese government and Chinese citizens:

When we criticize the actions of governments run by autocrats and dictators, like those in Russia and China, we must bear in mind that it is not the citizens who are responsible for their government’s abuse and negligence; they are in fact, the greatest victims of it.

When we criticize the actions of governments run by autocrats and dictators, like those in Russia and China, we must bear in mind that it is not the citizens who are responsible for their government’s abuse and negligence; they are in fact, the greatest victims of it.

For instance, the Chinese people bear no responsibility for their government’s illegitimate imprisonment of Canadians Michael Kovrig, Michael Spavor and Hussein Celil. It is also the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) criminal negligence that directly contributed to the mass outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, and the ensuing pandemic we face today. In fact, I very much doubt the families of China’s COVID-19 victims are celebrating their government’s actions today.

When we criticize the actions of these governments, we must be very specific and accurate in directing our criticism towards those who are in power. In the case of China, it is the Communist Party that holds exclusive decision-making power, and in Russia, the Putin regime. In both cases, the people of these nations have no meaningful say in the decision-making process of their governments, and face arrest and imprisonment for criticizing them.

By generalizing our disapproval and outrage towards the citizens of these regimes, we risk hurting and stigmatizing these communities, and that plays directly into the disinformation warfare tactics that such regimes are engaged in against the Western world, including accusations of “racism.”

Authoritarian regimes frequently label foreign criticism of their policies as “racist” as a way to delegitimize them and polarize debate. By wrapping themselves in ethno-nationalist rhetoric, these regimes often claim that a critique of their actions is equivalent to a critique of the people itself; this heightens the need to be precise with our language and aware of the propaganda efforts of authoritarian regimes. It’s a tried and true tactic in the authoritarian playbook.

China’s former ambassador to Canada, Lu Shaye, accused the Canadian government of “white supremacy” last year, when Canada demanded the release of its citizens who had been arbitrarily detained in China, in retaliation after Canada complied with a U.S. extradition request for Huawei CEO Meng Wanzhou.

Last week, the E.U. published a report that warned Vladimir Putin is seeking to use the COVID-19 pandemic to destabilize Western nations and undermine our alliances. The report states that the Russian government’s cynical disinformation attack is designed to “aggravate the public health crisis in Western countries, specifically by undermining public trust in national health care systems, thus preventing an effective response to the outbreak.”

In the apparent absence of any evidence that would disprove the E.U. claim, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Pskov accused the E.U. of “Russophobia” in an effort to intimidate European policy-makers, critics and media into silence.

The same tactic has been used by the Russian government to discredit Canadian political leaders, like Chrystia Freeland, whose Ukrainian background has been cited as tainting her judgment. Putin critics, like myself, have also been labelledRussophobic” for advocating for Canadian Magnitsky human rights legislation, a law that was lauded as the most pro-Russian measure that any Western government could take, according to assassinated Russian pro-democracy opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov.

Yet the concerns of Canadians who are worried about ethnic communities being stigmatized by the global pandemic must not be dismissed either. As the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin has pointed out, President Trump’s recent reference to COVID-19 being a “Chinese virus” is “simplistic but technically accurate,” and plays into the hands of Chinese Communist Party propagandists, who in turn use this to provoke anti-Trump and anti-Western sentiments.

Leading U.S.-based Chinese human rights activist Jianli Yang told me that he “may not like the term ‘Chinese virus’ that President Trump has been using in the past few days,” but he doesn’t believe “it is intended by him for any racist meaning.” He believes that Trump was using the term to counter the Chinese government’s attempts to “divert responsibility for its mishandling of the outbreak which has resulted in this global pandemic.”

Yang believes that “there should be and must be a moment when all, victimized individuals and countries, come together to hold the CCP regime accountable.”

Here in Canada, we can be fairly certain that our governments’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic, at all three levels of government, have been shaped by our sensitivity to potential accusations of racism by Chinese government propaganda. Why else did Canada refrain from limiting travel from Hubei and China, only to close off virtually all foreign travel mere weeks later?

Canada is not alone in facing such foul accusations.

In Sweden, a former, long-serving Swedish MP, Gunnar Hökmark, wrote in a recent opinion piece that “China’s leaders should apologize to the world for epidemics coming from China because of the dictatorship’s failure to address food safety, animal standards, and because its repression of truth and the freedom of its own citizens.” China’s ambassador to Sweden Gui Congyou condemned the statement and accused Hökmark of “stigmatizing” China. China’s ambassador also went on to criticize Hökmark, his colleague Patrik Oksanen and their think tank, the Stockholm Free World Forum, for being part of an “anti-China political machine” and for “attacking, slandering and stigmatizing China.”

Canadians and our government must take great care to avoid generalizations that risk stigmatizing Canadians of Chinese heritage, or any other community, whose governments engage in similar repressive behaviour, including the Russian and Iranian regimes. However, we must also be alert to regime propagandists who seek to dismiss and silence legitimate criticism of their actions when they smear critics with false accusations of “racism.”

As Jianli Yang underlined for me, “the Chinese Communist regime is not justified in accusing anyone of racism, who criticize its early-stage covering up of the COVID-19 outbreak, and the latest information (disinformation) war against other countries.”

Source: Criticism of the Chinese government’s handling of coronavirus is not racism

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?