The gravest security threat the free world faces is ongoing efforts by the Chinese regime and other non-state actors to influence elites and take over control of democratic institutions for their own purposes, says Canadian MP Garnett Genuis.
“It is a real and pressing and urgent threat to our way of life when our municipalities, our universities, private companies, community organizations, and political parties can be co-opted and pushed and pulled to serve the interests of a foreign power—interests and values that are hostile to our own,” Genuis told Jan Jekielek on Epoch Times’ American Thought Leaders.
As the Conservative Party’s shadow minister for international development and human rights and a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, Genuis says there’s a need for more awareness about the Chinese regime’s covert influence operations “in every country, at every level.”
“There’s a need for a broader recognition of the risk … a recognition of the fact that elites at every level are subject to efforts at this kind of co-opting, whether it’s school boards, small town mayors, university presidents, individual members of parliament—there’s a lot of attempt at this kind of influence,” he said.
“It’s so important for people in the free world, in every country at every level, to develop greater awareness about this.”
In recent months, news on Beijing’s influence operations has become more prominent, as the United States takes a tougher stance on China amid fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the past two months alone, a New York City police officer was arrested and accused of spying on the Tibetan community for the Chinese Consulate; five Chinese nationals were charged with allegedly hacking more than 100 companies and entities worldwide; a Chinese researcher at UCLA (University of California Los Angeles) was charged with destroying evidence (a hard drive) to hamper an investigation into whether he had transferred sensitive software to China; a NASA researcher was arrested and accused of hiding his funding from China; and a former CIA officer was arrested for allegedly spying for China for a decade.
Last month, The Epoch Times obtained a document leaked from one of the Chinese regime’s foreign affairs offices that showed efforts to target elites in Genuis’s home country, Canada. The leaked document revealed a list of targets for influence. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, a number of Calgary city officials, several academics, and a now-former mayor of St. John’s were on it.
Genuis says the pandemic has created a “growing global awareness” of the threat the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) presents to the free world, though ordinary citizens seem to be wisening up faster than some in the political realm.
“Everyday people who follow these events, I think intuitively understand the need we have to protect our countries,” he said. “Sometimes for elites it gets muddier. There are maybe competing personal interests.”
Genuis says countries must now prioritize “moving on these issues of foreign interference by state or state-backed actors coming from China or elsewhere,” because the risks of co-optation and covert control can undermine any democracy or institution.
Genuis has long been an advocate for human rights, sparked in part by his own family history—his grandmother was a Holocaust survivor—and he was raised with an awareness of the importance of speaking up for others who couldn’t speak for themselves, he says. Now, he sees disturbing parallels between the Holocaust and what is happening to ethnic and religious minorities in China today.
“There were a lot of similarities to what we have seen developing [during the Holocaust] and are seeing develop within the Chinese Communist Party—we have concentration camps in East Turkistan, we have efforts to co-opt other religious philosophies, efforts to control people through sophisticated technology—this is the sort of thing that we have seen before and are seeing again,” he said.
The repression and persecution of Uyghur Muslims, Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetans, Christians, Hong Kong democracy activists, and others, are some of the most egregious ongoing human rights abuses happening under the regime today, he says. But now, Beijing seems to be growing more aggressive and using their tools of repression with an increasingly wider scope.
The Orwellian surveillance system used to monitor religious minorities, for example, was the test pilot for China’s notorious social credit system. The system uses technology such as facial recognition and algorithms to track citizens is now being rolled out across China, he notes.
In Hong Kong, what started out as Beijing’s attempt to co-opt democratic institutions behind the scenes, has turned into “a full-frontal assault” on the autonomous region, says Genuis. This summer the Communist regime introduced a draconian national security law that undermined the ‘one-country-two systems’ arrangement in principle. The CCP has since used increasingly aggressive measures to gain control of the region such as interfering in local elections and arresting democracy activists en masse.
“This is the manifestation of the more aggressive, impatient face of the Communist Party,” said Genuis.
Combatting China’s Human Rights Abuses From Canada
Genuis says the CCP’s nefarious methods of control, consistent with those used in the history’s worst genocides, show “the need for us to be vigilant” and resist “giving in to the appeasement way of thinking” when it comes to confronting China.
Quoting Winston Churchill, he said appeasement “is like feeding a crocodile expecting it to eat you last.”
This is partly why Genuis has been a strong advocate for human rights in China. His first-ever private member’s bill introduced in 2017, Bill C-350, aimed at fighting forced organ harvesting in China by making it a criminal offence for a person to acquire an organ that they know was acquired without consent. It would also make those involved in forced organ harvesting inadmissible to Canada.
The bill was inspired by the over 10 years of research done by two Canadian lawyers, David Matas and David Kilgour, on state-sanctioned organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners in China, which kills the victim in the process.
Matas and Kilgour, along with investigative journalist Ethan Gutmann, released a report in June 2016 which estimated, based on evidence such as hospital data and doctors’ statements, that Chinese hospitals have performed some 60,000 to 100,000 transplants a year since 2000, with the source for most of the organs coming from prisoners of conscience, primarily Falun Gong practitioners. An independent London tribunal ruled last year that forced organ harvesting is indeed taking place in China “on a significant scale.”
Though Genuis’s bill did not get passed in time for the 2019 election, he is still pushing for it to be put through, despite delays due to reduced sittings in parliament amid COVID-19.
The Real China
As free nations begin to grapple with the Chinese regime’s efforts to dominate the world, it is important people don’t see this as some kind of “clash of civilizations” or cultural divide between the western world and China, said Genuis.
The Chinese regime’s assertion that the Communist Party or communism represents true Chinese culture is a false narrative, he said, pointing to Taiwan as an example where Chinese culture and democracy go hand-in-hand. True Chinese culture is steeped in thousands of years of moral and spiritual teachings which were abruptly and brutally suppressed during the communist revolution.
“What the Communist Party has represented is an effort to destroy that ancient culture, and then now kind of belatedly, to co-opt some of the iconography,” he said.
“It’s important for us to be clear and to clearly speak as allies of the Chinese people, people who are the first victims of the Chinese Communist Party, and to push back against this narrative that this is somehow a clash of civilizations. This isn’t a clash of civilizations. People of all backgrounds desire freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, respect for their fundamental freedoms, their human dignity. These things are the birthrights of all human beings.”