Canadians who speak out against the Chinese Communist Party risk being abducted when travelling in countries with close ties to the regime, pro-Hong Kong democracy activists warned this week.
Hong Kong pro-democracy advocate Nathan Law, who fled Hong Kong and now lives in the U.K., and Swedish activist Angela Gui, whose father was sentenced to 10 years in a Chinese prison despite his Swedish citizenship, both testified before the Canada-China Committee on Oct. 26.
Gui told the committee that Beijing’s national security law is intended to “extend beyond the territory of Hong Kong, to anyone,” and that her father’s case is a precursor to China’s “extraterritorial induction of political dissidents.”
Gui’s father, Gui Minhai, a Hong-Kong based Swedish citizen, was abducted by Chinese agents in Thailand in 2015 for publishing books critical of the Chinese regime’s leaders, along with four other booksellers. He was released in 2017 and placed under house arrest.
He was arrested again in early 2018 while on a train to Beijing accompanied by two Swedish diplomats. He was accused of “illegally providing intelligence overseas” and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
According to Gui, the Chinese authorities claimed that her China-born father renounced his Swedish citizenship and reinstated his Chinese citizenship. But the Swedish foreign affairs ministry confirmed that they did not receive Gui Minhai’s request for renunciation.
“In my father’s case, China now claims they have the authority to unilaterally change foreign citizens’ nationality, completely undermining protection that foreign citizenship used to provide,” she said.
“I will also just emphasize that my father is, in fact, solely a Swedish national. He does not have Chinese citizenship,” she added, expressing concern for Canadians with dual citizenship who may be subjected to the same treatment as her father.
Garnett Genuis, vice-chair of the committee, called what the CCP did to Gui Minhai a “denial of citizenship and real risk of abduction from third countries.”
Genuis asked Gui how concerned Ottawa should be regarding Canadians detained in China or in Hong Kong who could be forced to renounce their citizenship.
“One should definitely be concerned about the risk of Canadian citizens being abducted in third countries and also having their citizenships denied, and potentially also changed as in the case of my father,” Gui answered.
She stressed that Canadians shouldn’t use Chinese technology if they are planning to travel to countries where there is a strong CCP influence.
“It’s been known to spy people on apps,” she said, believing that her father was abducted because the Chinese regime had studied his habits and movements through the technology.
Gui also urged Canada to work with like-minded nations to clearly and publicly demand Beijing adhere to international laws and refuse to cooperate with extraterritorial application of Hong Kong’s national security law, as well as demand her father’s release.
Nathan Law, one of Hong Kong’s most well-known democracy activists and a founding member of Demosistō, a new pro-democracy political party, left Hong Kong in July after the draconian national security law came into effect.
He headed to the United Kingdom where he believes he will be able to continue his advocacy for Hong Kong freedom more effectively.
Law said democratic countries need to work together to “stop China from wrapping its ideology and control over the region.”
To achieve this, he recommended the immediate short-term steps of applying Magnitsky sanctions against Chinese officials involved in human rights abuses in Hong Kong and elsewhere, developing asylum and refugee policies for Hong Kongers, and following similar moves by other countries to ban Chinese telecom giant Huawei from participating in Canada’s 5G networks.
In the longer-term, Law said Canada should engage with like-minded allies around the world “to develop a pushback strategy against China’s human rights abuses of hostage diplomacy and coercive trade practices.” This could include “developing close economic, political, and security ties with Taiwan, and introducing legislation to combat foreign agents of influence in Canada, particularly targeting United Front activities.”
Asked by Liberal MP Peter Fragiskatos what liberal democracies should focus on to handle their relations with Beijing, Law said the most important thing is consensus-building among countries to consolidate their China policies, and send a very clear signal to the regime that they’re departing from the old path of appeasement and instead adopting an assertive and proactive approach.
In order for a strategic alliance to be realistic and effective, Gui said effort “needs to be put into organizing the coming together of high-level officials from each interested country to come together and actively sit down and discuss what are the policies that we want to enact together to stop Chinese influence.”
During the meeting, Bloc MP Stéphane Bergeron asked both activists if they were aware of CCP agents abroad carrying out intimidation or arrests, or if there’s any indication that some countries may be helping the regime to abduct political dissidents.
“Yes, I personally believe that, although it hasn’t been conclusively shown, that Thai authorities were complicit in the abduction,” Gui said, referring to her father’s case.
“My father left his passport behind when he was kidnapped, and had to have it renewed during the period that he was under house arrest [in China] in 2017,” she said, adding that the Thai authorities “had no record of him leaving Thailand” and “did not seemed willing to assist in any investigation of what happened to my father, which is something that concerns me greatly.”
Law said that due to his activist role for six years, he has been avoiding places where the relationship with the CCP is close.
“It is clear that these authoritarian regimes, they are highly possible colluding or cooperating with each other, and activists like us, we have to be very careful,” he said.
“And yes indeed, the reason why there are these hearings, and the other hearings, and that there are no advocates from Hong Kong, who are still based in Hong Kong, willing to participate is because it will draw much repercussion for them.”
LegCo a Puppet
Conservative MP Michael Chong asked about how the lack of pro-democracy candidates running for election could impact the functioning of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo).
“Hong Kong people already view the Legislative Council as merely a puppet council from the Chinese government because the Hong Kong people cannot enjoy the rights of electing their representations fairly,” Law said.
“Its legitimacy is largely challenged, and Hong Kong people are less and less inclined to believe in the change in the system,” Law added.
Asked if it’s foreseeable to see a mass exodus of Hong Kong people seeking the country, Law said it is unlikely as Beijing is still targeting specific people that they view as threats and not the overall population.
Conservative Leader O’Toole has called on the Trudeau government to urgently come up with special immigration and refugee measures for Hong Kongers facing persecution under the national security law.
O’Toole also proposed evacuation assistance to assist the 300,000 Canadians living in Hong Kong to flee from the city if it becomes necessary.
Liberal MP Emmanuel Dubourg raised the question of Gui’s personal safety.
Gui said she doesn’t travel to places where China has influence. She added that she had been the subject of intimidation attempts such as intrusive photography and break-ins in the United Kingdom and Germany and other places.
She talked about the Stockholm meetings that took place in January 2019 when she was invited by former ambassador to China Anna Lindstedt to meet two unidentified businessmen who could help her secure her father’s release.
“I was in a hotel lounge for 72 hours, was made to feel I couldn’t leave, and that I have to be quiet about my father’s case. Otherwise, I would never get to see him again,” she said.
“It’s very hard in these circumstances to know how you can protect yourself.”
In addition, Gui worries when she needs to communicate with friends using Huawei phones or Huawei routers.
She urged Canada to raise the limit of Chinese technology expansion to protect people in her situation.
With files from Reuters