French report documents Chinese regime’s extensive influence operations in Canada
Comprehensive Report Reveals the Extent of China’s Global Influence and Propaganda Operations
NOE CHARTIER for EPOCH TIMES
The Chinese regime’s influence operations in Canada are extensive and pervasive, according to a detailed report released by a French military-affiliated think tank.
From stifling dissent to influencing policy, media and education to manipulating information and using local organizations, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is using its entire toolbox to influence Canada and Chinese nationals, according to the report, Chinese Influence Operations: A Machiavellian Moment.
While Canada has yet to respond effectively to these threats, the report says, France has made a shift in its mindset toward the Beijing regime, leading it to write the 640-page report, published in September by the Institut de recherche stratégique de l’École militaire (IRSEM), a think tank funded by the French Ministry of the Army.
“In summary, awareness in France of the risks posed by Chinese influence is sharp and growing since 2019, with a clear acceleration in 2020-2021. It is in this context of ‘French awakening’, which now seems irreversible, that this report will be published in September 2021,” write authors Paul Charon and Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer.
The Chinese embassy in France said it was “scandalized” by the IRSEM report, which deals with the CCP’s expanding influence in the world and its propaganda operations. The embassy called the report “a pure and simple operation to stigmatize China” and a threat to current relations between France and China.
China’s interests in Canada lie “first and foremost in its Chinese diaspora, which is home to a large number of real or perceived dissidents,” the report says. One of the regime’s priorities around the world is to stifle defenders of Tibetans, Uighurs, Falun Gong, Taiwanese independence and Chinese democracy, and this struggle is also being waged on Canadian soil, the report says.
Canada is also a target because of “its proximity in all respects to the great American rival; its membership in military (NATO) and intelligence (Five Eyes) alliances of great interest to Beijing; the fact that it is an Arctic nation, an area of growing interest to China; its image as an exemplary liberal democracy, making it a symbolic target; and the fact that it is a middle power, minimizing the potential consequences,” the report said.
The report highlights numerous instances of the CCP’s attempts to silence dissent and groups in Canada that it persecutes at home.
For example, the Chinese consul general in Toronto was convicted in 2004 of defaming a local Falun Gong businessman. In 2006, a Chinese embassy diplomat’s visa was not renewed when it was revealed that his main task was to track down and harass Falun Gong practitioners in Canada.
Counter-demonstrations to disconcert opponents of the regime are also “systematic and aggressive,” according to the report, which gives the example of Chinese missions mobilizing groups against pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. People of Chinese descent who demonstrate against the regime in Canada may also be surreptitiously photographed and their photos sent to China, which can lead to their arrest if they try to return, or to pressure or intimidation of their families.
Chinese dissidents are also victims of smear campaigns and intimidation, the report says. One example is the case of author Sheng Xue, who came to Canada after the Tiananmen Square massacre. In 2012, one month after receiving the Diamond Jubilee Medal from Queen Elizabeth II, Sheng Xue was elected president of the Federation for a Democratic China. She immediately became the target of a smear campaign, with rumors and doctored images of her circulating on social media. The report says the campaign succeeded in causing considerable damage to the Federation’s members, which eventually led to its breakup and Sheng Xue’s resignation.
Constant surveillance of dissident communities, cyberattacks, visa denials and identity fraud (CCP agents send irrational messages to elected officials in the names of those they want to discredit) are other tools Beijing uses in Canada, according to the report.
The report’s section on political influence operations in Canada opens with a comment by former Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) director Richard Fadden to the CBC about foreign-influenced politicians, which drew strong reactions in 2010.
“There are several municipal politicians in British Columbia, and several cabinet ministers in at least two provinces, who we believe are at least under the general influence of a foreign government,” Fadden said.
That “foreign government” is none other than China, and one of the ministers was later identified as Michael Chan in Ontario, the report said, based on information from the Globe and Mail.
While politicians of Chinese origin are being closely monitored, the report says, Beijing is using a variety of methods to entice others, such as offering trips to China.
Again citing the Globe and Mail, the report notes that between 2006 and 2017, Senate and House of Commons parliamentarians took 36 trips to China, many of which were funded by the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs, an arm of the CCP’s United Front Work Department. Used to build pro-CCP alliances around the world, one of the United Front’s missions is to gather intelligence on elites and organizations and attempt to influence them.
Former Liberal MP John McCallum took C$73,300 worth of trips to China between 2008 and 2015, with the bill paid by the Chinese government or pro-Beijing groups in Canada.
McCallum went on to become minister of immigration and then Canada’s ambassador to China, a position from which he was removed in 2019 after providing arguments in defense of Huawei CFO Meng Wangzhou, who was facing extradition to the United States on fraud charges.
The report describes Beijing’s influence at the municipal level, as well as interference in federal elections. In the recent 2021 election, Conservative candidate Kenny Chiu, who was seeking re-election in the British Columbia riding of Steveston-Richmond East, was targeted, losing some of his electorate.
Chiu said his former supporters suddenly ignored him, which was reflected in the ballot box when he lost his seat to liberal Parm Bains.
During the election, Chinese state media also published articles hostile to the Conservative Party and its leader Erin O’Toole, who has taken a strong stance against the CCP.
Media under control
The IRSEM report says that in Canada, “almost all Chinese-language media are controlled by the CCP,” with the exception of Epoch Times and its media partner NTD Television.
“This means that Chinese immigrants who speak little or no English or French have relatively little exposure to democratic and liberal values and are not likely to change,” the report says, noting that some have lived in Canada for a long time but still have the same communist mentality as in China.
The report shows that the issue of CCP influence in education is multi-faceted. It presents data showing that over 20% of foreign students in Canada are Chinese. The problem is that “some of these students are working for Beijing,” the report says.
These students can help shape attitudes toward the CCP on campus by pressuring dissenting voices or professors, and can also send stolen academic research to China, the report says.
The report quotes CSIS Director David Vigneault as telling major universities in 2018 that “CSIS assesses China as the most significant and clear challenge [to human espionage] targeting Canadian universities.”
The report also discusses Confucius Institutes (CIs), the Beijing-led language and cultural centers that cling to all levels of educational institutions. Among the notable incidents mentioned was the decision by New Brunswick Education Minister Dominic Cardy to cancel his province’s CI contract. “Beijing was using our school system as a conduit to extend its influence,” he said in justification of his decision.
The National Post reports that Cardy was visited by the Montreal-based Chinese consul general about the cancellation of the IC contract. The consul said the cancellation would jeopardize trade between New Brunswick and China. Mr. Cardy was not deterred. New Brunswick cancelled the program in elementary and middle schools in 2019 and will do so in high schools by 2022.
Limited response from Ottawa
The report says the federal government lacks the political will to counter Chinese manoeuvres on Canadian soil.
“Despite recurring warnings from CSIS and numerous cases revealed in the press, political resistance – essentially a propensity to perceive China as a partner rather than a threat – remains strong in Canada,” the authors write.
Following the release and departure from Canada of Huawei CFO Meng Wangzhou on Sept. 24, and the simultaneous return of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who had been arbitrarily detained in China for nearly three years, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said the country was now taking a four-pronged approach to China: “co-exist,” “compete,” “cooperate” and “challenge.
Following Garneau’s announcement on the China policy front, former Canadian ambassador to China David Mulroney commented on Twitter,
“Don’t expect a sea change from people who until recently advocated full engagement. What’s wrong with our foreign policy isn’t just about one or two tweaks. And the urgent issue now is domestic: China’s influence and interference in Canada.”
While the IRSEM report identifies many facets of Beijing’s influence in Canada, it does not address the influence of the China lobby.
On October 6, Mulroney said on Twitter that “Canada’s China lobby is trafficking in three powerful lies: the moral equivalence of Canada and China, the demonization of the U.S., and the denial of the China threat. It plays on our progressive guilt, our North American vanity and our unwillingness to do or dedicate anything to defend ourselves.
Nor does the report mention the capture of elites in Canada – wealthy and powerful Canadians who collaborate with Beijing to promote the regime’s interests and influence Canada’s policy choices regarding China.
“This illusion is the result of an extraordinarily successful ‘elite capture’ campaign mounted by CCP organs,” he writes.
“The campaign has generated an excessively benign and unsuspecting attitude toward Beijing and the CCP among Canadian political, official, academic and business decision-makers. This has allowed CCP organs to influence Canadian policy, gain access to Canadian resources and proprietary technologies, take almost total editorial control over the Chinese-language Canadian media, and be able to send Ministry of State Security agents to Canada to intimidate Canadian citizens whom Beijing considers to be dissidents.”
Jonathan Manthorpe told Epoch Times that he believes the French report is “an impressive piece of work.”
“As for the Canadian section, IRSEM’s editors have done a thorough job of reporting the studies and assessments of all Canadians who have been warning for years about influence and infiltration by Chinese Communist Party agents,” he said.
Four days after the release of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, the Canada-China Business Council (CCBC) hosted a webinar on China’s 14th Five-Year Plan (FYP) to help Canadian companies navigate the changing Chinese economy and “seize upcoming opportunities in the Chinese market.”
Both Canada’s Ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, and China’s Ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, offered their thoughts.
A description of the event states that “Canadian companies that can contribute to China’s new goals are likely to prosper; those that cannot may face a more challenging operating environment in the years ahead.”
A report produced by CCBC and Trivium China states that “ensuring ‘economic security’ is a key theme of the 14th FYP.
A summary of the report notes that “the policy horizon for Canadian companies [in China] is becoming more complicated” but nevertheless suggests that “companies should seek to structure their business operations in China in line with Beijing’s policy objectives.”
One of the founding members of the CCBC, which was established in 1978, is Montreal-based Power Corporation, a multi-billion dollar financial services company. In his book, Manthorpe describes Power Corp. as “the primary guardian of [Canada’s] official relations with China.”
If this is an example of elite capture on the corporate side, the phenomenon is also tangible on the political side. The Meng case showed how former high-ranking political figures tried to influence the debates.
The IRSEM report notes the June 2020 effort by 19 former parliamentarians and high-ranking diplomats, including two former foreign ministers, who sent an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling for Meng’s release. “Complying with the U.S. request has strongly opposed China,” the signatories wrote, adding that Meng’s release would allow the return of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor.
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