The Chinese regime’s strategy of using members of the diaspora who are under its control to run for political office is more advanced in Canada than other countries, says Australian scholar Clive Hamilton, whose new book chronicles how Beijing uses elites in target countries to extend its influence abroad.
“The Chinese Communist Party always goes where power lies,” Hamilton, a professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, told The Epoch Times in an interview.
His latest book “Hidden Hand,” co-authored with Mareike Ohlberg, senior fellow in the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund, examines the influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in North America and Europe, and the many tactics—some new and some old—the Party uses to advance its power and reshape the world.
The CCP has greatly enhanced its strategy to grow its influence abroad over the last two decades, Hamilton says, but some of these tactics have been in its armoury since even before the communists came to rule China in 1949.
One such tactic was developed when the CCP retreated from cities during its struggle with rival Nationalist Party and continued its fight from the countryside in the pre-1949 era. Lessons learned from this strategy, dubbed “using the countryside to surround the cities,” were later employed in other arenas by the CCP.
“This slogan should not be understood only in the literal sense; the idea is to go to areas where the CCP’s enemies are weak or not well represented, organize the population there, and then use them to encircle the enemy’s strongholds,” Hamilton and Ohlberg write in their book.
Hamilton says this tactic is currently being used in Europe, where the CCP is consolidating its influence in the periphery of the European Union’s “citadel,” Germany.
“The CCP has been working hard to establish influence in Southern Europe—Italy and Greece—and a number of Eastern and Central European countries,” he says. “It’s surrounding the EU and exerting influence from the edges.”
In some other countries targeted by the CCP, such as Canada and Australia, the tactic can be seen in how the regime attempts to develop influence over municipal, provincial, or state-level politicians.
According to “Hidden Hand,” the CCP’s connections with these local politicians are leveraged to pressure national governments.
In his famous CBC interview in 2010, then-head of Canadian Security Intelligence Service Richard Fadden said cabinet ministers in two provinces, as well as some municipal politicians in British Columbia, were suspected of being under the influence of foreign governments. He hinted that China is the most aggressive of the countries trying to gain influence in Canada.
The Globe and Mail later revealed one of the provincial cabinet ministers Fadden was referring to was then-Ontario cabinet minister Michael Chan. Chan has since filed a lawsuit against the Globe for their reports.
On an annual basis, Beijing has been hosting a cocktail reception at the yearly convention of Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM). Last year, the CCP’s sponsorship was heavily criticized by Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West who said it was inappropriate for the regime to pay to have access to municipal officials. UBCM eventually decided to end the practice amid a public outcry, despite the support of several B.C. mayors for the foreign sponsorship to continue.
Most Advanced in Canada
Fadden said in his 2010 interview that foreign interference in many cases involves foreign governments going after members of their diaspora, in some cases “somebody who’s second, third generation,” so that “there’s the old country connection.”
A relationship is then formed with the individual, and the individual is offered trips back to the home country, he explained.
When the individual later assumes a position of power, he said, “all of a sudden decisions aren’t taken on the basis of the public good but on the basis of another country’s preoccupations.”
Hamilton says that while people of Chinese ethnicity are underrepresented in politics in the West and more should be done to encourage them to get involved, the CCP is taking advantage of the democratic process and enticing candidates from the community whom it can control to run for local office. Attempts to call this out are dismissed by allegations of racism, he says.
The CCP started employing the strategy of pushing ethnic Chinese to run for political office as far back as 2005, according to “Hidden Hand.”
The book adds that CCP’s United Front organizations, which are mandated by the CCP to increase its influence abroad, “are increasingly following the advice laid out in 2010 by a CCP strategist—build ethnic Chinese-based political organizations, make political donations, support ethnic Chinese politicians, make political donations, support ethnic Chinese politicians, and deploy votes to swing close-run elections.”
Hamilton says the program is in use in a number of countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and many countries in Europe, but is most advanced in Canada.
Part of the reason, he says, is that the United Front organizations seem to be more entrenched in Canada. Another factor is the role the flow of money played with the diaspora coming to Canada, which happened earlier than other places like Australia, he says.
“The diaspora was accompanied with a lot of money flowing into Canada, particularly in Vancouver and Toronto, and the money brought political influence.”
Hamilton says one way to tell if a candidate is under the influence of the CCP is to see if they avoid saying anything critical of the regime. Another likely giveaway is if the candidate is a prominent member of the United Front groups that serve Beijing’s interests.
‘Very Deep in Canadian Institutions’
In the book, Hamilton and Ohlberg write that the CCP’s influence networks are so entrenched among the elites in Britain that the country “has passed the point of no return, and any attempt to extricate itself from Beijing’s orbit would probably fail.”
In the case of Canada, Hamilton says the country “is in deep trouble because of the elites,” and this applies to the networks of close contacts that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has in business and politics.
“There’s been a gradual buildup of uproar in Canada at the way in which the business political elite has become entangled with the Chinese political and corporate elite, as a result of which Canada’s diplomatic dealings with China have been embarrassingly submissive,” he says.
“The kind of intimidation and bullying that Canada has been subject to from Beijing is shameful for any nation with a modicum of self respect.”
Beijing is currently holding Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor behind bars on espionage charges, and has given the death penalty to four Canadians on drug charges—moves that came about after Canada arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on an extradition request from the United States. The regime has also blocked importation of Canadian agricultural products, and regularly rebukes Canada for not releasing Meng.
A recent poll by Nanos Research showed that more than half of Canadians think Ottawa should be taking more aggressive actions to pressure China to release Kovrig and Spavor, while another poll by Angus Reid found that only 14 percent of Canadians have a positive view of China.
In this kind of environment and “the strong shift in the public sentiment,” as well as the increased exposure of the “China guard” in the media, the elites are finding it increasingly difficult to appease Beijing, Hamilton says.
He adds, however, that he has learned not to underestimate the power of Beijing forces abroad.
“They might be quiet now, but they will come back,” he says.
“If Canada is going to reassert its independence, then this is not something that will be done in a month or two. This is a 10-year struggle, because the influence of the CCP runs very deep in Canadian institutions.”
Hamilton says the CCP carefully examines and identifies where the centres of political, economic, and cultural power lie, and who the most powerful people are in those areas. It will then create a profile of each person, and find a way to approach them and bring them under its influence.
“The CCP preys on their weaknesses, it appeals to their desires and their hopes,” he says. “They’ve been a kind of very willing victims of this kind of manipulation.”
The CCP is also very good at “disguising its operations,” Hamilton says, so it has been able to continue its influence-wielding operations behind the scenes for years.
“[It conducts the strategy] by hiding behind ideas like people-to-people exchanges, engaging in international cooperation and harmony, such as win-win cooperation and building economic linkages,” he says.
Hamilton says the first step in untangling from CCP’s influence is to expose it and shed light on its practices; the second is holding to account political and business leaders acting as “apologists for Beijing”; and the third is enacting foreign interference laws as Australia has done.
The laws, passed in 2018, include tougher penalties for espionage activities and require agents acting on behalf of foreign political actors to publicly register their names.
“A foreign interference law will make it much more difficult for the CCP to engage in its foreign interference activity,” he says. “It means that the CCP has to go deeper into the shadows, and many of its United Front activities become illegal.”