As China’s top leader arrives successively in Ottawa, Toronto, Niagara Falls, and Vancouver over the next eight days, Chinese nationals are preparing to come out, wave flags, and greet their communist ruler. In fact, the Chinese embassy is making sure of it.
Overseas Chinese say they have been lured to join in welcoming President Hu Jintao by offers of money, free meals, souvenirs, and good references that will help them get jobs.
The incentives are par for the course for Chinese officials visiting overseas, and part of an effort to create an impression of legitimacy for Chinese nationals and Western governments.
Chinese-language press in Canada have reported since July about the large-scale welcomes being arranged for Hu’s first state visit to Canada. One report in the Chinese-language Sing Tao this week said the Chinese embassy has been arranging between 100 and 200 to greet Hu as he arrives at the airport in Ottawa.
From there, reports say, he will be greeted by over 600 Chinese on Parliament Hill, another hundred at Pearson Airport in Toronto, and more than 2,000 in front of his Toronto hotel.
Participants say the Chinese embassy is doing all it can to make sure the welcome groups are large and orderly.
“The welcome team is designated by the Chinese embassy,” said Xiao Junqiang, a member of the (Chinese) Ottawa Seniors Association, an organization that will take part in greeting Hu.
Based on Xiao’s experience of other Chinese officials visiting Canada, he expects that “team members will be paid privately after they show up at the ceremony.”
Some are not as optimistic.
Members of the Ottawa Chinese Students Association were promised a free lunch for joining the welcome team in Ottawa. However, “this time there is no pay,” they say they were told by organizers.
Still, an organizer at the student association said students could receive a positive reference from the embassy that would help them to find jobs. According to Brian McAdam, a retired 30-year career Canadian diplomat who was stationed in Hong Kong, “the Communist Party is desperate to use [the welcome teams] to show their country and the world their legitimacy.”
“First of all, they can make it appear to the president of China that he is very welcomed [in Canada]. Secondly, they can make it appear to the Canadian population that the Chinese population indeed supports them [… and that] there is nobody opposing the Chinese policies. It is just classic propaganda. The Chinese communist government is good at it.”
Hu’s visit to Canada is not the first time the Chinese authorities have offered incentives to Chinese expatriates to greet visiting officials.
Chen Yonglin, the former First Secretary at the Chinese Consulate-General in Sydney, Australia, was part of preparations for greeting Hu when he visited Australia in 2003.
“For students abroad, the Chinese consulate will pay them and provide them with food and opportunities to attend activities organized by the Chinese consulate or tickets for other concerts,” Chen told The Epoch Times.
He said that students on government scholarship also need a certificate from the Chinese Consulate-General that describes their behaviour overseas. This helps them to get jobs when they return to China.
Positive comments from the Chinese consulate or embassy are a big plus.
Chen, who defected from his post in May of this year and has since been granted refugee status in Australia, believes that without the behind-the-scenes arrangements of the Chinese consulate, far fewer people would be welcoming visiting Chinese officials.
History of Persuasion
Chinese students and community members report receiving incentives to greet Chinese officials visiting North America over more than ten years.
During former ruler Jiang Zemin’s visit to the United States in 2002, some organizers of a Chinese student union at DePaul University claimed that welcoming Jiang was a very serious political task and all the participants could get free T-shirts that cost US$35 from the Chinese consulate.
Meanwhile, the Friendship Association of Chinese Students and Scholars (FACSS) asked students joining the welcome activities to sign a contract that read:
“The [association’s name] has invited [the participant’s name] to be a member of the welcome group. As a member of this group, I agree to obey all the rules of the group. I also agree that if I make any trouble (e.g., protest against the American government and/or the Chinese president), I will pay a minimum $5,000 as compensation for the reputation loss brought to the group by the trouble I made. In addition, under the circumstances in which Falun Gong practitioners contact us or we know that other organizations will make trouble, we I agree that we report this to the welcome group and relative official bureaus immediately.
We understand that we have the right to express our opinions through protest with any organization. However, as a member of this group, we are willing to give the right up.”
Jiang then visited Houston. According to Voice of America, a Chinese student union at the University of Houston said that the participants of the welcome activities would receive free lunch, dinner, souvenirs such as hats and T-shirts, and tickets for basketball games.
When Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Washington DC in December 2003, greeters received US$25 each. According to a student at Princeton University, some students brought their whole families and earned US$100.
When then-Premier Li Peng attended a United Nations conference in New York in January 1992, greeters received US$75 each.
Meanwhile, student organizers in Ottawa have been working hard to gather greeters for Hu’s arrival Thursday morning. One student, who asked not to be named, told The Epoch Times, “Because that is the first day many students will attend classes, we have not got many people. We are pretty anxious now because the applicants are not many. The embassy is anxious. So are we.”