As we mark the sixth anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine and the world order, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced the creation of a task force in Canada to counter the Kremlin’s rampaging disinformation campaign.
There is a real need to tackle this threat to the concept of truth, which is the basis of democracy and human rights. But why limit the team’s mandate to the lies of a single offender? This essentially signals to China that Ottawa will not respond to the more lavishly funded propaganda program from Chinese embassies and consulates across Canada.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping touts the move as one of the Chinese Communist Party’s “magic weapons” of domestic and global manipulation. It was used to sabotage World Health Organization research into the origins of COVID-19; suppress the truth surrounding the genocide against the Uyghurs; and deter influential Canadians from promoting actions that threaten Beijing’s espionage efforts, including Canada’s security and technology partnerships with our allies.
The propaganda campaign, which includes conspiracy theories promulgated by pro-Beijing Chinese-language media in Canada, threatens our democracy. This has already cost Chinese Canadian MPs their seats in the last election, and since we are doing nothing about it, we can expect more in the next election. Chinese-language media incitement includes accusations of pervasive racism against anyone in Canada of Chinese descent. Readers of WeChat and other Chinese platforms are implored to respond by identifying with the motherland and becoming loyal to the Chinese Communist Party.
The disinformation campaign also denounces Canadian citizens of Chinese descent – such as Xiao Jianhua, Huseyin Celil and approximately 300,000 Canadians residing in Hong Kong – as “Chinese-Canadian passport holders”, implying lesser Canadian citizenship than European-Canadian passport holders who are simply Canadian, without hyphenated modifiers.
Ottawa’s refusal to confront this harassment of Tibetans, Uyghurs, Falun Gong and Chinese democracy activists in Canada is shameful. In 2020, then-foreign minister Francois-Philippe Champagne promised action, but nothing happened. Last year, Rob Oliphant, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, said Canada was “actively considering” a registry of foreign agents (similar to US and Australian measures) to counter malicious Chinese activity in Canada. But it was obviously an empty promise to assuage Canadian resentment over China’s subversive operations here.
Canada seems unable to do anything about China, due to the incompatibility of Ottawa’s doctrine that we must maintain close relations with Beijing, regardless of public opinion. When the Chinese ambassador in Ottawa threatened Canada with crossing a “red line” on Taiwan, warning officials to learn lessons from the past (read: hostage diplomacy) if our MPs set foot in Taiwan, our first minister did not even condemn the remarks, but simply urged MPs to consider the “consequences” of such a visit.
The government seems in a similar paralysis over the appointment of a new ambassador to China, a position that has not been filled throughout 2022. Whoever is appointed will inherit the dark shadow of our last two ambassadors. – John McCallum and Dominic Barton – who have personal business connections in China. and were seen as promoting Beijing’s interests over those of Canada. When it comes to Chinese diplomacy, Canadians increasingly assume that conflicts of interest will trump Canada’s national interests and moral integrity.
Last June, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mélanie Joly, announced the formation of the Indo-Pacific Consultative Committee of Canada. After five years of promising a China policy reset, informed sources say that the government’s China policy supporters on this committee are debating how to exclude any mention of China from our Indo- peaceful.
As this theater of the absurd drags on, the absence of a principled China policy is shaking any faith the United States and other allies have in Ottawa’s jurisdiction.
Unfortunately, based on performance so far, there is no sign of a meaningful China “reset” coming out of Ottawa before the next federal election.