The COVID-19 pandemic may be the most visible way in which China has impacted life in Canada, with the pandemic costing Canadian lives, shutting down businesses, and forcing people to stay home. But the Chinese regime has been influencing Canada’s way of life and decision-making for decades, including how Canada initially responded to the outbreak.
A group of over 100 China scholars signed a letter this week calling out the Chinese communist regime for its initial coverup of the virus outbreak, saying Beijing is responsible for the pandemic that is threatening people’s lives around the world.
(Click to enlarge infographic)
Last week, the Taiwanese ministry of foreign affairs said that as early as Dec. 31, Taiwan sent a notice to the World Health Organization warning of human-to-human transmission of the virus, but the advice was ignored.
Throughout the crisis, WHO praised China for its response to the outbreak while actively asking other countries to avoid closing their borders to Chinese travel and trade. The United States has decided to put a hold on funding to the agency, with President Donald Trump saying WHO is too “China-centric.”
Ottawa refused to restrict travel from China until later in March, even though over 50 countries implemented some form of restriction at their border in early February. Ottawa’s move was praised by Beijing.
Ottawa shipped 16 tonnes of personal protective equipment (PPE) to China in early February, and pro-Beijing groups in Canada organized to ship large volumes of PPE to China under the direction of the Chinese regime. China’s envoy to Canada lauded Canada’s collaboration around that time. As reported previously by The Epoch Times, Beijing has now hoarded the global inventory of medical supplies, while other countries including Canada are facing shortages, putting the lives of front-line health workers at risk in the face of a deadly pandemic.
In response to questions from opposition politicians in early February on why Canada isn’t restricting travel from China, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer and an adviser to WHO, cited the agency’s advice against travel bans.
She said that the idea is to not have measures that “very negatively” impact China, which is “trying very hard to do its best,” as such measures “can impede whether this country in the future will ever share anything transparently with others.”
“I think the idea is to support China,” she said.
Similar justification was presented by Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and other world leaders like U.S. President Bill Clinton to bring China into the World Trade Organization. China formally joined the WTO in 2001.
Canadians were told at the time that linking China closer to international institutions would entice it to follow the international rule of law and bring more freedom for Chinese citizens who have been suppressed by the regime for decades.
World leaders before them who brought China out of isolation in the 1970s and paved the way for it to become a member of the United Nations made similar arguments.
But China’s aggressive behaviour on the world stage today, and the regime’s hostile attitude toward Canada, have shown a different result.
Taking advantage of its membership in the WTO, China has maintained huge trade surpluses, meaning that its trading partners are buying more from it than selling to it. Meanwhile, it has used that trade to supplant its competitors in WTO countries.
China is now the world’s second-largest economy and the second-highest military spender. It has exerted influence over the international bodies it had once been shunned from, and is using them to its advantage. The regime is acting aggressively in the South China Sea and other parts of Asia while expanding its military presence around the world and challenging defence alliances that Canada is a member of. And it remains one of the worst human rights perpetrators in the world.
At Stake This Time: Canadian Lives
When China detained Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor after Canada’s arrest of Huawei chief executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition request, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Canada lacks leverage in asking for the two men’s release because of years of “appeasement” to China by the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
China still has Kovrig and Spavor in custody while blocking Canadian agricultural imports in violation of WTO rules. It has also warned Canada against blocking Huawei from the national 5G network. Canada is yet to make a decision on the issue, despite warnings by the United States that inclusion of the telecom giant in the 5G network would mean Washington would limit intelligence sharing with Canada.
If Canada were to allow Huawei in its 5G network, it would be distancing itself from its closest trade and security partner while allowing a Chinese communist regime-linked firm to gain penetrating control over Canadian telecommunications.
In past considerations to support China in the hope that it would become a responsible world citizen, a number of critical issues were at stake, including national security and human rights.
This time, what has been at stake in the “support China” approach is the very lives of Canadians.
The following sections explore some of the ways Beijing has impacted life in Canada and the various means the regime uses to influence public policy and decision-making.
Influencing Industry and Gaining Leverage
Beijing uses access to its market as a way to coerce countries to bend to its will.
For Canada, this was the case as early as the 1960s, when Canada and China signed a grain deal that increased Canada’s annual exports from under $10 million to almost $150 million. Back then, some politicians cited as a risk the threat of China cutting grain exports if Canada didn’t align its stance on Taiwan with Beijing’s. The communist regime says the self-ruled island should be under its control.
Today, China incites major corporations and business associations to lobby Ottawa to follow Beijing’s wish and threatens to block imports if Canada falls out of line. The latest example is China’s disruption of exports of canola and other products after Canada’s refusal to free Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou.
Despite China’s trade disruptions against WTO rules, the regime has enjoyed access to Canada’s market in a rules-based environment. The trade deficit in China’s favour was over $50 billion last year, similar to the year before. The cumulative trade surplus that China has held with Canada and other countries has fuelled the massive foreign reserve of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—over double of the next largest, Japan’s—giving the regime more power over its own citizens and other countries.
A 2018 report published by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service capturing views by experts says that “China is prepared to use threats and enticements to bring business and political elites to its side, and motivate them to defend the Chinese perspective on disputes such as the status of Taiwan and the South China Sea.”
The business benefits that Beijing promises may only be helping certain players. Research papers show that since China’s inclusion in the WTO and the flow of Chinese goods to Canada, Canada has lost hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs.
In 1978, eight major Canadian corporations and a Chinese state-owned company formed the Canada-China Trade Council, which later was renamed the Canada China Business Council.
In his 2019 book “Claws of the Panda,” journalist Jonathan Manthorpe says the founding members of the organization “became a persuasive lobby for enhanced relations with China, for which the benefits of trade were held to be of paramount concern.”
One of the corporations is Power Corp. of Canada. Manthorpe describes the company in his book as “the premier gatekeeper of [Canada’s] formal relations with China.”
Several retired senior Canadian politicians have worked for the corporation or continue to be affiliated with it. Among them are former prime ministers Jean Chrétien and Brian Mulroney.
Chrétien suggested last year that Canada’s justice minister should use his authority to block Meng’s extradition to the United States, and Mulroney suggested that Chrétien be sent as a special envoy to China to negotiate the release of the arrested Canadians.
The pro-Beijing business lobby has managed to influence government policy even in staunchly China-averse governments.
Former prime minister Stephen Harper famously shunned the 2008 Beijing Olympics and was a vocal critic of China’s human rights and behaviour on the world stage. But later in his tenure, his government eased its tone on China.
“Behind the scenes, a major lobby operation was mounted using the CCP’s agents of influence in business and academia to get the Harper government to change its attitude toward China,” Manthorpe writes in his book.
The lobby was successful, he adds.
Subverting Institutions and Politicians, and Gaining Influence
The Chinese regime uses the United Front Work Department, a key organization of the regime, to advance its sphere of influence abroad. CCP founder Mao Zedong called the United Front a “magic weapon” necessary for sustaining the regime’s power.
The agency aims to bring Chinese diaspora and politicians abroad under its control to act in the regime’s interest.
Then-CSIS head Richard Fadden famously said in 2010 that some provincial cabinet ministers as well as municipal elected officials were under the influence of a foreign regime, and mentioned China as the most aggressive country in the pursuit of influence.
Starting around 2005, China initiated a strategy of using members of the Chinese diaspora it trusts to run for public office, according to Clive Hamilton, author and professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University in Australia. This strategy is most advanced in Canada, he writes in The Conversation.
A 2018 report by Hoover Institution notes that in Canada, Chinese state actors have targeted political parties and politicians as well as civil society and academia to be used as sources of influence.
Trudeau stirred much controversy in 2016 for attending cash-for-access fundraisers attended by wealthy people from the Chinese-Canadian community. One of the events was attended by a wealthy Chinese individual who acts as a political adviser to the Chinese regime. Trudeau ended cash-for-access fundraisers in 2017.
The 2019 annual report by the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians cites an excerpt from a Washington, D.C.-based Hudson Institute publication saying, “With deep coffers and the help of Western enablers, the Chinese Communist Party uses money, rather than communist ideology, as a powerful source of influence, creating parasitic relationships of long-term dependence.”
One of the common methods Beijing uses to develop closer relations with politicians is by offering free junkets and treating the guests to lavish dinners and luxury hotels.
Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan told the Vancouver Sun in 2006, “when I go to China, they treat me like an emperor.” Sullivan pursued court action to shut down a long-running protest site outside the Chinese Consulate in Vancouver run by practitioners of Falun Dafa, a spiritual practice being persecuted by the Chinese regime.
In 2010, after returning from a trip to China, Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien withdrew his support for a proclamation recognizing local practitioners of Falun Dafa. He reportedly explained to an Ottawa city councillor that his change of heart was the result of a “commitment” he had made while in China.
Beijing also in many cases offers lucrative job offers to politicians and senior civil servants after they leave their official posts.
Shortly before Australia’s new anti-foreign interference laws came into effect, two former cabinet ministers and a former premier resigned their posts with organizations with strong links to the Chinese regime. The country’s new laws require those acting on behalf of foreign powers to publicly register their names.
The United States has enacted similar laws, but no such legislation exists in Canada.
Charles Burton, a senior fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, wrote in an op-ed in the National Post that the scenario of former politicians and senior civil servants working for China-linked organizations “raises huge questions about whether they’d been compromised in defending Canada’s national interests vis-a-vis China while in office.”
Buying Key Assets to Gain Control
China has been buying key assets in Western countries for a number of years. Politicians in New Zealand started warning of their citizens becoming “tenants in their own land” after Chinese state-owned companies started buying up farmland as well as assets in other sectors.
In a controversial decision, the government of Stephen Harper allowed a Chinese state-owned company to buy Canadian oil giant Nexen in 2013. Harper said at the time that this wouldn’t happen again and implemented rules to stop such takeovers in the future except on an “exceptional basis.”
But the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau has allowed the takeover of two sensitive high-tech companies, drawing heavy criticism from intelligence and security circles, including U.S. politicians. In one case, Canada allowed a Chinese company to buy Norsat, a Vancouver-based satellite communications firm. In another case, a Hong Kong-based company was allowed to buy Montreal-based ITF Technologies, a laser technology company.
The Liberal government did draw a line when it came to a proposed takeover of Canadian construction giant AECON by a Chinese state-owned company, with Ottawa disallowing the takeover in 2018.
In the background, however, Chinese state-owned companies continue to purchase major stakes in Canadian companies.
A Chinese state-owned company has a major stake in Teck Resources, a Canadian mining company that was criticized in 2016 after appointing a Chinese regime official to its board of directors.
“You have an official with a foreign government who is sitting on the board of a public company in Canada,” Dermod Travis of Integrity BC told The Tyee at the time.
Co-opting Academia and Controlling Thought Leaders
A critical component of China’s efforts to influence foreign policy in various countries is having academics publish headline-grabbing papers and experts give talking points in media interviews that are aligned with what Beijing wants.
Canadian decision-makers often consult with academics on policy creation. Pro-Beijing academics can therefore have significant impact on government policy on China.
China’s approach to influencing academia is multi-pronged.
Several Canadian universities and colleges, as well as school districts in Canada, host Confucius Institutes. The institutes are controlled by a Chinese state agency and are branded as providing opportunities for those abroad to learn about Chinese history and culture.
But intelligence agencies think otherwise. The institutes present content that’s in line with Beijing’s directions and become bases for exerting influence in the host organizations—which in many cases could be leading universities. This influence includes rallying students to oppose events or talks critical of the Chinese regime.
One of the ways Beijing maintains control over students from China studying abroad is via the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA). These associations, found in almost all major Canadian campuses, openly declare that they were founded or supported by Chinese consulates.
Most recently, the CSSA at McMaster University had its student club status revoked by the university’s student union. The association had issued statements against a human rights event on campus that was critical of China, and the event was disrupted while it was in session.
China’s Huawei has also invested millions of dollars in various Canadian universities while taking ownership of the intellectual property developed by Canadian researchers. The administrations of universities with Huawei funding, and those that rely on tuition fees from international Chinese students, have voiced concern over the souring relationship between Canada and China after Meng’s arrest, fearing the loss of those funds.
Another of the CCP’s tools is the Thousand Talents Program, publicly branded as a program to attract foreign experts to China. U.S. intelligence agencies say the program is a means to enable technology transfer to China. The FBI most recently arrested the chair of Harvard University’s Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department, Charles Lieber, for allegedly lying about his financial ties with the regime. He is alleged by the FBI to be part of China’s Thousand Talents Program.
According to author and China expert Steve Mosher, Beijing is very active in trying to co-opt individual scholars to support its lines in academia. It achieves this, he says, by for example offering scholars large sums of money for a lecture, or granting them honorary titles. In many cases, China also manages to silence scholars by threatening to deny them visas, which can hinder the ability of a China scholar to conduct research.
Exporting Opioids, Fuelling Addiction and Overdose Deaths
Besides the pandemic, China is behind another crisis that is directly killing Canadians in large numbers: the opioid crisis.
According to police, China is the main source of illicit fentanyl into Canada. There were close to 14,000 opioid-related deaths in Canada between January 2016 and June 2019, with fentanyl accounting for the majority of them.
Christian Leuprecht, a political science professor at Queen’s University and the Royal Military College of Canada, says China is intentionally shipping fentanyl to North America to contribute to the decline of society here.
The White House has used its trade negotiations to compel Beijing to say it will take action to combat the flow of fentanyl. A Global News report citing sources says Beijing has refused to make any promises to Canada to take action on the exports of the drug into the country.
The fentanyl operations are also related to illegal gang activity and money laundering, both of which have impacted everyday life significantly in British Columbia.
Intelligence agencies have long reported on links between Chinese gangs operating in Canada and Beijing. A joint report by the RCMP and CSIS prepared in the late 1990s says Beijing’s intelligence agencies use Chinese triads and Hong Kong tycoons for laundering money, stealing economic secrets, and gaining influence over Canadian politicians, media, companies, and other areas.
Conducting Espionage to Gain Strategic and Economic Advantage
Chen Yonglin, a former Chinese diplomat who defected to Australia in 2005, said at the time that China has over 1,000 spies in Canada.
In his book “Silent Invasion,” Australian author Hamilton says that in addition to “traditional kinds of spying,” Beijing also recruits a large number of the members of the Chinese diaspora to pass on useful information to the regime. The information includes state and commercial secrets as well as information on groups persecuted by Beijing such as Falun Gong adherents and Uyghur Muslims.
In consecutive years, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, the parliamentary watchdog overseeing national security, has named China as a major threat in espionage and influence activities in Canada.
“China is known globally for its efforts to influence Chinese communities and the politics of other countries,” one of the committee’s reports says.
A major area of concern when it comes to China identified by the committee is cyber threats.
In 2014, Chinese state-sponsored hackers infiltrated the computer networks of Canada’s National Research Council. The attack cost Canada hundreds of millions of dollars.
Canadian telecom giant Nortel, which filed for bankruptcy in 2009, was the subject of massive years-long IP theft by Chinese hackers, according to the company’s former senior security adviser Brian Shields. Shields is convinced that the beneficiary of the IP theft was Huawei, which started to prosper in global markets around the same time Nortel was going bankrupt.
In 2018, U.S. and Israeli researchers found that China Telecom, a Chinese state-owned company, has been routing internet traffic in Canada and the United States through its own network for espionage and IP theft purposes.
Hamilton says in his book that Beijing aims to build China’s “technological and engineering capabilities on the back of research carried out in other nations.”
Ottawa still has not made a decision to rule out Huawei from participating in its 5G network, despite calls by the United States over security concerns, threatening limitation of data sharing if Canada doesn’t exclude Huawei. Huawei has close links to the Chinese regime, and Chinese law requires Chinese companies to assist Beijing in intelligence gathering when required.
Imprisoning Canadians and Pressuring Government
When the Chinese regime’s influence efforts are ineffective in co-opting an institution or individual, it often uses more physical forms of intimidation. In China, that means mass incarceration, institutionalized torture, and state-sanctioned extra-judicial killings.
For Canadians in China, it can mean arbitrary imprisonment. Kovrig and Spavor remain behind bars while the pandemic rages on in China.
A similar scenario played out back in 2014, when China arrested the Canadian couple Julia and Kevin Garrett. This followed Canada’s arrest of a Chinese national on a U.S. extradition request. Julie stayed behind bars in China for a year, and Kevin for two years.
Robert Schellenberg, another Canadian, who originally was serving a 15-year jail sentence on drug charges in China, had his sentence escalated to death following Meng’s arrest. And since then another Canadian, Fan Wei, has been sentenced to death in China on drug charges.
A number of other Canadians have been arbitrarily detained in China.
Sun Qian, a Chinese-Canadian businesswoman, has been held in custody in China since 2017 for practising Falun Dafa.
Canadian winery owners John Chang and Allison Lu were arrested in 2016 and charged with smuggling for allegedly misreporting the value of ice wine they export to China.
Huseyin Celil, a Canadian citizen and Uyghur human rights activist, was detained during a visit to Uzbekistan in 2006 and handed over to Beijing.
There are many other family members of Canadians, as well as countless numbers of dissidents and minority groups, who continue to be persecuted by the Chinese regime.
Using Increased Strength to Change World Order
As the Chinese regime gains control, it shifts from soft tactics like ingratiating foreign dignitaries to win trust and acceptance, to heavy-handed tactics that have shifted the dynamics of global power. This has become a challenge to alliances that Canada is a part of.
Since its early days, the Chinese regime has tried to create wedges between allies, using the “divide and conquer” approach.
In the case of Canada, this strategy could be seen as early as the 1970s when Canada and China re-established relations. According to Chinese diplomats formerly stationed in Canada, when Mao learned that Canadian and Chinese diplomats had reached an agreement on establishing relations, he laughed and said Beijing now had a “friend in the backyard of America.”
China’s increased belligerence can already be seen both in its military aggressiveness and its ambitious global economic initiatives. These include endeavours such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an ambitious infrastructure plan to establish China-centred land and maritime trade routes, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, China’s version of the World Bank, in which Canada is an investor.
Countries that have taken loans from China under its different programs, such as the BRI—and had to forfeit major infrastructure after defaulting on their loans—have found this to be more of a debt-slavery mechanism. Such was the case in Sri Lanka, which had to forfeit control of a major port to Beijing after failing to repay its loan.
China has behaved in an increasingly hostile manner in the South China Sea and other parts of Asia. And it has extended its influence in Africa as well as Latin America, the latter being the backyard of Canada’s closest ally, the United States.
China is also showing increasing interest in Canada’s own backyard, the Arctic.
According to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the risk of China investing tens of billions of dollars in the Arctic to develop shipping lanes is that it will “establish a permanent Chinese security presence.”
With files from The Canadian Press
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the number of Canadian corporations forming the Canada China Business Council. In fact, eight Canadian corporations were founding members of the organization. The Epoch Times regrets the error.