Beijing’s Shadow Haunts Overseas Chinese Students in Canada

Recent events on campuses show the Chinese regime’s reach into Canadian universities
By Omid Ghoreishi
Omid Ghoreishi
Omid Ghoreishi
Senior Reporter
Omid Ghoreishi is an Epoch Times reporter based in Toronto.
February 14, 2019 Updated: February 14, 2019

TORONTO—Recent events on Canadian campuses highlight the pro-Beijing stance promoted among Chinese students that target groups persecuted by the Chinese regime.

The Epoch Times has obtained a copy of a statement in Chinese issued by the McMaster University Chinese Students and Scholars Association (Mac CSSA) and four other organizations that condemns an event held at the university in support of Uyghur Muslims persecuted in China, telling its members that it is asking the university to ensure that the dignity of “Chinese students is not infringed upon.”

The statement indicates that the Feb. 11 event, titled “The Genocide of Uyghur Muslims—Talk by a Uyghur Survivor,” was anti-China and it’s aim was to publicly promote “East Turkistan” secession, “incite national hatred and attack the Chinese government,” and “raise funds for this purpose.”

A statement issued by the McMaster University Chinese Students and Scholars Association
A statement issued by the McMaster University Chinese Students and Scholars Association and three other organizations condemning an event held at the university in support of Uyghur Muslims.

According to China analysts, CSSAs are used by the Chinese regime to control Chinese students and academics for the regime’s benefit. On the online public profile of many of the CSSAs at different universities, such as the University of Toronto, it is indicated that they have been founded with the support of the Chinese Consulate. Online records show many CSSAs, including the one at McMaster, attending annual meetings of the student associations at the Toronto Chinese Consulate.

Chen Yonglin, a former Chinese diplomat who defected to Australia, said in a previous interview with The Epoch Times that Chinese student associations in almost all universities in Canada, the United States, and Australia are set up by the China Education Department and given funding by the regime.

Chen Yonglin, a former Chinese diplomat who defected to Australia.
Chen Yonglin, a former Chinese diplomat who defected to Australia in 2005, speaks at a Sydney rally in 2015. Chen says that CSSAs are supported by the Chinese regime and used to control and spy on Chinese students and scholars outside China. (Shar Adams/The Epoch Times)

The other four organizations that signed the statement are the McMaster University Chinese News Network, the McMaster University China Graduate Society, the McMaster University Chinese Professional Association, and the MELD Student Association.

In a separate incident, Chemi Lhamo, a University of Toronto Scarborough student of Tibetan ethnicity who shared news of being elected the president of the university’s student union on Instagram, had her account flooded with negative comments and vulgar insults for being vocal on China’s suppression in Tibet.

A petition claiming to be initiated by students at the university aims to overturn Lhamo’s election as president because she advocates for a free Tibet.

Chemi Lhamo, a student at the University of Toronto Scarborough
Chemi Lhamo, a student at the University of Toronto Scarborough, who was recently elected as the president of the student union at the university. (Handout)

“I’m well aware of China’s long arm, how they’ve crept their way into influencing academic institutions here in Canada via Confucius Institutes,” Lhamo said in an interview with The Epoch Times. “It became concerning when my loved ones had to read such harsh comments and were being affected emotionally.”

Means to ‘Guide Students Abroad’

A Facebook page for the Feb. 11 event, organized by the McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice and the McMaster Muslims Students’ Association, says one million Uyghur Muslims are being detained in “re-education camps” in China’s Xinjiang region and invited people to join the event to “learn more about the atrocities taking place and hear stories of the survivors.”

The event page also has a link to a donation page titled “Support Uyghur Orphans and Women in Turkey,” referring to Uyghur women and children whose husbands or fathers have been either killed, sent to a concentration camp, or imprisoned by Chinese authorities and who have now settled in Turkey.

“These funds will be delivered directly to Uyghur refugee women and children living in Istanbul, particularly in the neighborhood district of Zeytinburnu where most Uyghurs in Turkey reside,” the donation page says.

A video of the event posted to Facebook shows a man swearing at the event host as he leaves.

The Mac CSSA’s statement, issued on Feb. 13, says the groups have “made representations to the relevant departments of the university” requesting that they ensure “university activities are in compliance with regulations and that the dignity of Chinese students is not infringed upon.” It also says they have reported the event to the Chinese Consulate General in Toronto.

In a recent paper, Anne-Marie Brady, a professor at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and a global fellow at the Wilson Center, writes that CSSAs are “one of the main means the Chinese authorities use to guide Chinese students and scholars on short-term study abroad.”

Mehmet Tohti, a Toronto-based Uyghur human rights activist, says it’s not surprising that the CSSA would make such statements, as its “attitude on human rights defenders” is in line with the official position of the Chinese regime.

“They are closely connected with the Chinese government. Whenever top Chinese officials come to Canada for visit, the Chinese consulate immediately reaches out to them and puts Chinese flags in their hands to come out and give a warm welcome to the Chinese officials,” Tohti said.

Australian professor Clive Hamilton
Australian professor Clive Hamilton speaks about his ground-breaking book “Silent Invasion” to an audience at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa on Oct. 16, 2018. (Courtesy of Macdonald-Laurier Institute)

Clive Hamilton, a university professor and author of “Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia,” says CSSAs are an integral part of the Chinese regime’s apparatus to monitor the “thoughts and behaviours” of Chinese students abroad.

“More recently, they have been at the centre of brazen attempts to close down free speech on Australian campuses by organizing online protests and calling in consular officials to pressure universities to discipline staff members who make statements contrary to Beijing’s position,” Hamilton said in a talk in Ottawa late last year.

In 2017, the CSSA at the University of California-San Diego published a statement saying it had asked the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles for instructions on how to stop a scheduled speech by the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, at the university.

A report by 32 scholars issued last year by the Stanford University-based Hoover Institute says that with the direct support of the Chinese Embassy and consulates, CSSAs “sometimes report on and compromise the academic freedom of other Chinese students and American faculty on American campuses.”

In his commentary, Hamilton explains that CSSAs are an integral component of China’s United Front Work Department—an agency of the Chinese regime tasked with expanding the regime’s control of overseas Chinese communities and expanding the regime’s influence abroad.

In the chart presented below, Hamilton outlines the organizational structure of China’s United Front operations in Australia, and how it is connected to CSSAs. He says a chart for Canada would be similar as the organization operates in a similar structure in Canada.

Organizational structure of United Front operations.
Organizational structure of United Front operations. (Prepared by Clive Hamilton, author of “Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia.”)

The Epoch Times contacted Mac CSSA for comment but no response was received.

An earlier version of this article misstated the number of organizations co-signing the statement with the Mac CSSA. The Epoch Times regrets the error. 

Omid Ghoreishi
Senior Reporter
Omid Ghoreishi is an Epoch Times reporter based in Toronto.