Beijing’s ‘second channel’ Diplomacy in Canada

June 25, 2009 Updated: June 27, 2009

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi made an official visit to Canada this week, prompting some to proclaim a breakthrough in Canada-China relations. China-business lobbyists will say the Conservative Government has now seen the light. But there are others who fear the government is stepping down from a stance toward China that was not only principled, but also made sense.

Early on, Prime Minister Stephen Harper had chilly relations with the communist regime. He publicly criticized its notorious human rights record, angering the China-business lobby. But he also earned respect as one of the few world leaders to speak up for China’s downtrodden.

That was then. Today it is hard to tell what Mr. Harper's position is. The Prime Minister’s Office seemed reluctant this week to put “human rights” and “China” together in the same sentence when asked whether Harper and Yang had discussed that issue in their meeting. Instead, his spokesperson, Demitri Soudas, would only say the two had talked about all issues of concern to both countries.

It could be said that Yang's arrival in Canada was paved by former Chinese ambassador to Canada Mei Ping. Beginning last fall, Mr. Mei worked behind the scenes to influence the Conservative government's China stance, a fact he boasted about in a reception at the Chinese consulate in Toronto last Wednesday night.

Ming Pao, a pro-Beijing Chinese-language newspaper that covered the event, reported that the communist regime turned to Mei because of his extensive ties here.

A ‘Secondary Channel’

The paper quoted Mei as saying he visited Canada in September and October of last year on a mission to use a “secondary channel” of diplomacy to change the government’s stance.

His efforts took him on a cross-Canada tour with stops in eight cities where he met with business leaders, think-tanks, opposition leaders, and media.

Chen Yonglin was a student at the Foreign Affairs University in China in the 1980s when Mei was the Chancellor there and said he is familiar with Mei's “secondary channel.” It's a concept Mei discussed at that time too.

Also called Track II diplomacy, under normal circumstances it would involve non-official figures engaging in dialogue for confidence building or conflict resolution. But in reference to China's efforts in Canada, Chen noted its broader implication. “It means to influence the Canadian Government through the Chinese community in Canada.”

Chen said Beijing previously exercised this “second channel” through overseas front organizations to dissolve the trade sanctions Western countries imposed on China after the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre.

Chen was the consul for political affairs in the Chinese consulate in Sydney before he defected in 2005. He revealed that one of his duties there was to monitor Chinese political dissidents and rights activists in Australia.

He also revealed how the regime used front organizations, including Chinese community groups, Chinese student groups, and Chinese media, to further Beijing’s interests abroad.

In his reported speech, Mei had also highlighted that the opinion of Chinese Canadians during the last election had altered Canada's China stance, something Mei was in the country to witness.

The Epoch Times
was following odd occurrences in the Chinese community during the election, many of which take on new significance in light of this information.

Among those odd occurrences was a poll published by the Ming Pao Chinese newspaper which claimed the single largest concern of Chinese Canadians was China-Canada relations. The poll came with the suggestion that political strategists could use the findings to lure Chinese voters.

These findings ran counter to most national election polls, which at the time found the economy was the overriding concern for the vast majority of Canadians.

Also odd were the townhall debates organized by Chinese community groups whose members were vocal supporters of the Chinese Communist Party and its foreign policy objectives.

Intelligence Efforts

Michel Juneau-Katsuya, formerly a senior intelligence officer at CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) and head of its Asia Pacific bureau, believes these incidents could be efforts by the Chinese regime to influence Canada's foreign policy.

His description of the Ming Pao newspaper offers some explanation.

Intelligence agents, he said, “have evidence to believe that Ming Pao has been used by the Chinese intelligence services on numerous occasions. So when we look at Ming Pao we see it as an extension of the government of China, the Central Committee of China and [an instrument of] Chinese intelligence services for its propaganda purposes.”

The same went for many Chinese community associations operating in Canada, he said. The goal was to exercise influence without getting caught.

"The Chinese government is having things done on their behalf but by someone else so you don't have a smoking gun."

Juneau-Katsuya backed Chen’s assertion that Chinese media, community and student groups were all frequently employed to influence foreign governments.

But a luncheon Minister Yang attended during his visit may add another dimension to that influence effort.

Not Just Business

The luncheon was put on by the Canada China Business Council, an influential China-lobby group whose membership roster includes some of Canada’s most powerful business leaders.

The business organization revealed in an email to members that the Chinese regime had directly asked the organization to put on the event.

Juneau-Katsuya said that because of its actions the CCBC, though made up of Canadians rather than Chinese diaspora, looks similar from an intelligence perspective to a front organization.

He suggested the group was heavily influenced by the Chinese regime.

"We've seen some positions, some statements made by these people, that were very very much representing the party line and the policies that the Chinese government wanted its allies to reverberate and to disseminate left and right," said Juneau-Katsuya.

He added that intelligence agents never considered the CCBC to be "strictly business-oriented."

The Canada China Business Council (CCBC) has twice barred reporters who write articles critical of the Chinese regime from attending its events, including its most recent luncheon. The organization has consistently cited “space limitations.”

Kate Heartfield with the Ottawa Citizen attended the event and noted that Minister Yang's speech was politically charged and mentioned the regime's claims not only to Tibet, but also Taiwan.

She blogged about the contradiction presented by Canadian-China business community's frequent attempt to argue that doing business with China's authoritarian regime had nothing to do with politics.

“But that's a lie. The Canada-China business community doesn't avoid politics; it just avoids political opinions that run contrary to the propaganda spread by the totalitarian regime,” she wrote.

“Bombardier was a major sponsor of the lunch. How is it not interfering with China's affairs when a heavily taxpayer-subsidized Canadian company like Bombardier builds a rail link into Tibet to help China speed up its cultural genocide there? Maybe politics and business aren't that easy to separate after all.”

“And how come Canada's not allowed to interfere in China's affairs, but China's allowed to run guns to the likes of Robert Mugabe and Than Shwe? Why doesn't China stop interfering in the affairs of Burma and Zimbabwe?”

Not surprisingly, the founding president of the CCBC is former CEO of Power Corp, Paul Desmarais Sr. Desmarais is one of the richest men in Canada and one of the most heavily involved in business with China.

Juneau noted that when former Chinese Premier Li Peng came to Canada in the early 1990s he spent a day and a half visiting then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien and the rest of his five-day visit at one of Desmarais’s residences.

The CCBC has basically dictated Canada’s China policy for the past 50 years, said Clive Ansley, former president of the Shanghai chapter of the CCBC and the first Western lawyer to establish a practice in China.

The CCBC did this through Desmarais’s close personal relationships with former Prime Ministers Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, and Jean Chretien, said Ansley. Desmarais’s son is married to former Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s daughter.

Ansley said the CCBC has managed to convince Canada’s A-list business leaders to pay hefty membership dues to join the organization with promises to facilitate trade with China.

However, despite the CCBC’s efforts to influence Canada’s business elite and its very vocal claims to the contrary, three national business polls conducted by COMPAS Inc. in 2006, 2007, and 2008 found that most business leaders judged Mr. Harper to have done well on his public criticism of China’s human rights abuses.

The executives said they believe Mr. Harper’s tough stance would either have no impact on Canadian business opportunities in China, or actually be good for business by helping Chinese improve their legal system. They also saw it as advancing human rights in China in the long run.

Legitimate Concerns

As a former Chinese diplomat, Chen Yonglin is well familiar with the inner workings of the regime and said its foreign policy effort all boils down to one thing.

“The core of China's diplomacy is to maintain the international recognition of the Chinese Communist Party as a ruling regime in China,” said Chen.

In short, the CCP is entirely focused on ensuring it is recognized as the legitimate ruler of China, an issue all the more critical at the present moment, he said.

“The exchange of visits with the Canadian top leaders will strengthen the public impression of the legitimacy of the Chinese government, which is not popularly elected.”

He points to the fact that China has been encouraging and assisting unstable neighbours North Korea and Pakistan in developing nuclear weapons as evidence that matters like national security hardly matter at all.

“The image of the Chinese leaders is the most important matter.”

It was once the case that a protest in China was met with bullets. But as the regime prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary, public demonstrations and riots in China are at an all-time high. In January, China's state-run Xinhua media agency published an article saying this year will be the peak period for “mass incidents.”

Official reports of “mass incidents” grew by more than seven times over ten years to 74,000 in 2004. Since then, officials have been tight lipped about the details of unrest in China, which suggests that the numbers have continued to rise.

The largest recent protest in China was in Shishou city, Hubei province, from June 19 to 20. Estimates vary, but anywhere from several thousand to 70,000 residents were involved. Protesters overturned police and fire vehicles during the confrontation with police, who called in soldiers from another city to put down the demonstration. Another smaller riot erupted the following day in Nanjing, when students found out their technical college would be giving them degrees equivalent to high school diplomas rather than the associate degrees they were promised.

Some China analysts say public discontent in China is nearing a breaking point and the regime is deeply concerned about anything that could push the masses towards a popular uprising.

“The Chinese regime has never been so weak as it is now,” said Chen. “With the rapid expansion of Internet surfers, the regime has found it is harder and harder to fool the Chinese people. The people know more about the truth of China’s past and present. The regime has exhausted all methods to cover the brutality and persecution. Petitioners demanding their cases to be reviewed have become more united than ever.”

While the elite of CCP officials have prospered in communist China, the masses have suffered through corruption and persecution, and an increasing number of them aren’t willing to accept it quietly. A small but well-reported case reveals the magnitude of the change taking place.

Blog Justice

Waitress Deng Yujiao was charged with murder after she stabbed and killed one of three Chinese Communist Party officials who were allegedly trying to rape her.

The case caused outrage across China. Bloggers called for her release and for the officials to be punished. Many advocated taking their protest from the web to the streets. Other people started support groups in her name and a grassroots effort grew to have her freed.

Last week her sentence was handed down. She was found guilty but her murder charge was downgraded twice, from manslaughter to assault, and she received no punishment. Witnesses were not called, leading many to suggest the verdict was politically decided. While the Chinese judicial system remains little more than a political tool of the CCP, it seems China's masses can influence the system by taking their concerns to the street.

But there is another situation the CCP is not likely to reconsider: its decision to stomp out a movement chipping away its very foundation. Chinese people have begun registering public withdrawals from the various organs of the Chinese Communist Party that they either voluntarily joined or were compelled to enlist in by their workplace or school.

The withdrawal movement sprang from an editorial series called the Nine Commentaries published by The Epoch Times. The series details the regime's often hidden bloody history, and has led to over 56 million withdrawals. The Nine Commentaries are among the materials produced by the approximately 200,000 underground presses operated by Falun Gong practitioners in China, according to the Falun Dafa Information Centre. The CCP has made stopping the spread of the series among Chinese a top concern, and Canadian researchers at the University of Toronto-based Citizen Lab found that the Chinese version of Skype was storing messages that talked about the series.

How Mighty the Dollar?

The CCP’s perceived legitimacy becomes even more crucial in the face of an economic downturn, given that the regime has staked its life on improved economic prosperity for China’s masses.

But with unemployment rising, the findings of a report by Albert Edwards, a strategist at Societe Generale who predicted the Asian Crisis in 1997, couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Earnings for Chinese companies have fallen through the floor, revealing critical faults in the Chinese economy. “I believe we will look back on the Chinese economic miracle as the sickest joke yet played on investors,” Edwards wrote in his report.

“The bullish group-think on China is just as vulnerable to massive disappointment as any other extreme example of bubble-nonsense I have seen over the last two decades… The fall to earth will be equally as shocking.”

And given that Canada runs a huge trade deficit with the Chinese regime, and that the value of Canada's exports to China is tripled by as small a trading partner as the State of Illinois, maybe now is not the time to kowtow to Beijing.

Prime Minister Harper’s now-famous claim that Canada would not compromise its principles for trade with China seems all the more a position for the government to reconsider.

“Canada should learn how to deal with a non-democratic regime like China,” said Chen. “Pressure is the only language that a dictatorship can understand.”