Documentary at Ottawa Film Festival Probes China’s ‘Trojan Horse’
Once a senior intelligence officer and manager with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Michel Juneau-Katsuya doesn’t mince words when it comes to China’s Confucius Institutes.
“They’re spies, period,” Juneau-Katsuya said.
“There are many countries and many intelligence services that concur with our conclusions that, unfortunately, this was a Trojan horse.”
Juneau-Katsuya, who worked at CSIS for over 21 years, was speaking on a panel after the screening of Canadian documentary “In the Name of Confucius” at its Ottawa premiere at the One World Film Festival on Sept. 30.
Directed by Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Doris Liu, the film, which also features interviews with Juneau-Katsuya, shows the controversies around one of China’s largest overseas soft-power initiatives.
The Confucius Institute (CI), promoted as a Chinese language and cultural program, was a way “to collect information in order, eventually, for intelligence officers to target certain individuals that went to that institute to study,” said Juneau-Katsuya.
“Unfortunately, [part of] the strategy of the Chinese government was to be capable, under the cloak of friendship, to able to infiltrate other forms of activities,” he said.
Hiring Policy Targets Persecuted Group
The documentary scrutinizes the CI from the perspectives of concerns about espionage as well as academic independence, censored content, human rights violations, and the CIs’ political influence and purpose.
Liu was inspired to make the film after hearing the story of Sonia Zhao, a former teacher at the CI at McMaster University in Hamilton. Zhao’s defection to Canada and revelations of the operations of the CIs later led to the closure of the CI at McMaster.
Zhao is a practitioner of Falun Gong, also called Falun Dafa, a Chinese spiritual discipline persecuted by the Chinese communist regime since 1999. She revealed that she and other CI teachers were required to sign a contract stating they would not be involved in any activity the communist regime disapproves of, including practising Falun Gong.
McMaster eventually closed its CI after failing to get agreement from its Chinese partner, Hanban, an affiliate of the Chinese Ministry of Education, to stop its discriminatory hiring practices.
The film also follows the controversial opening and eventual closure of the CI in Canada’s largest school board, the Toronto District School Board, after great public outcry.
Citing the Communist Party Line
Also on the panel where Liu and David Kilgour, a former Canadian MP and secretary of state for Asia-Pacific.
Liu said invitations to participate on the post-film panel were also extended to representatives from Ottawa’s Carleton University, which hosts a CI; however, no Carleton representatives accepted. Carleton is among 12 educational institutions or departments across Canada that host a CI, including the Edmonton Public School Board, New Brunswick Department of Education, Coquitlam School District, University of Waterloo, Brock University, University of Saskatchewan, British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT), Seneca College, Dawson College, University of Windsor, Saint Mary’s University, and University of Regina.
Kilgour, who lives in Ottawa, said he finds it outrageous that Carleton has a CI. “What’s even worse for me is—I’m from Edmonton—the Edmonton Public School Board has a CI.”
The Canadian Association of University Teachers has called on all Canadian universities and colleges to cut ties with CIs, describing the institutions as “political arms of the Chinese government.” The American Association of University Professors has taken a similar position, asking American universities not to partner with CIs.
In an emailed response to The Epoch Times, a Carleton spokesperson said the university “values the academic partnership with the Confucius Institute established in April 2012.”
The statement continues: “Carleton doesn’t seek to limit the expressions of divergent viewpoints. …There is zero evidence that anything prejudicial has been or is being taught in courses sponsored by the institute.”
In a previous interview with The Epoch Times, Zhao painted a different picture. She said that during training with the CI, teachers are taught to avoid answering questions on sensitive topics such as Taiwan and Tibet. But if a student insists on a question, the teachers have to cite the Chinese Communist Party’s line on the issue, which is that Taiwan is part of China, and Tibet has been “liberated” by the regime.
While still the head of CSIS, Richard Fadden said during a 2010 speech that CIs are controlled by Chinese embassies and consulates and linked them with Beijing’s efforts to influence Canadian policy.
Juneau-Katsuya said the Chinese have developed a “mass collection process” and try to use influential people to collect information.
“The concepts of manipulating the mind and propaganda have been around for quite a long period of time,” he said. “Thankfully, in our institutions—and Carleton [University] is one of them—we develop critical thinking, and we need to be capable to balance those things.”
“But, and I’ll stop here, from an intelligence point of view, we do have evidence of spy activity and people being targeted after they took a course because they’ve shown interest in China, and that was a way to approach them in a way other than by an intelligence officer,” Juneau-Katsuya said. “The evidence is there.”
The following is an excerpt of comments by the panellists following the screening of “In the Name of Confucius” during Ottawa’s One World Film Festival on Sept. 30, 2017. The comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.
At the end, comments provided by Carleton University to The Epoch Times are presented.
- Doris Liu, director of “In the Name of Confucius”
- David Kilgour, former Canadian MP and secretary of state for Asia-Pacific
- Michel Juneau-Katsuya, former chief of Asia-Pacific, Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS)
Audience Question: What important concerns should the Canadian government have? Or, how did they respond to the concerns?
Doris Liu: When making the film, I did not get any response from the federal level. We don’t have a ministry of education at the federal level.
The Ontario Ministry of Education gave me an email response; it did not mention any of the concerns, but rather talked about the good, strong relationship between Ontario and China, and said China is a very important partner, which I agree. I agree, but the question is how we engage China.
In B.C., I reached out to one CI hosted by the Coquitlam District School Board … and reached out to the Ministry of Education in B.C. … [They] said that the ministry had no role in regulating CIs in the Coquitlam School Board, because CI offers weekend and after-school classes, so according to B.C.s school act the ministry would have no say in that program. Again [they] did not respond to any of the concerns, particularly the human rights concerns.
Audience Question: Big countries alway have cultural centres overseas. The British have the British Council. The French have the Alliance Française. The Germans have the Goethe-Institut. Why won’t we allow the Chinese to have their own cultural center?
Doris Liu: I found two major differences between CI and all the other cultural and [language] education centres.
- CI is directly run, funded, and controlled by the government of China and mainly the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). According [to CI’s constitution published online, it] is run by Hanban, which is under the ministry of education of China, overseen by a council, whose members are from various ministries of the Chinese government or departments of the CCP. The council is chaired by a member of the CCP. Any directives that go to Hanban and then go to any of the CIs would come from that council. You can imagine, all members of the council are CCP members or high-ranking officials. … That is one very major difference between CI and all the others.
2. All the other language and cultural education institutions are run by themselves physically. …They do not seek to embed or seed … themselves into established [educational institutions in other countries. This is the model chosen by Hanban, by the Chinese government, which is to embed CI into established, well-reputed overseas universities, colleges, and school boards.
Michel Juneau-Katsuya: I will add a third difference: they’re spies, period. As you know I’m a national security expert. I worked over 21 years for CSIS. …The big difference is that you need to understand the relationship that the Chinese government has with its various organizations in order to promote what the Chinese government wants to promote.
This movie is not an anti-Chinese movie or anti-Chinese culture. Who doesn’t want to learn a foreign language? Who doesn’t want to learn a foreign culture? This is a richness, a gold mine that everybody should try to explore. Unfortunately, within the strategy of the Chinese government was to be capable, under the cloak of friendship, to be able to infiltrate other forms of activities.
The CSIS, which I served for 21 years, which I mentioned—I was in charge of watching what was coming from Asia, not only China, Korea, Malaysia, you name it.
The Confucius Institutes are not [only] being watched by the Canadians. There are many countries and many intelligence services that concur with our conclusions—that unfortunately, this was a Trojan horse. This was a way to bring intelligence officers or to collect information in order, eventually, for intelligence officers to target certain individuals that went to that institute to study, with the right intentions. But that was part of their game.
And again, this is my game, this is my role, what I’ve been doing for so many years. I’m a spook. That’s what we try to do. We try to understand what the opponent is trying to achieve. And this is what we’ve been capable to uncover.
Now, since what we’ve done in Toronto, since the movie came out, we’ve seen the Chinese government is starting to change its strategy. Not necessarily it’s methodology, but just the strategy, trying to achieve the same thing differently. That’s part of the game and it’s going to go on and on and on for quite a while.
But the question of what the Canadian government is doing about all this, … they expect CSIS to be capable to report and to warn, as much as possible, but there’s an ambivalence with the Canadian government because we want to do business with China … and a lot of elected officials will be lured and seduced by the idea of going to work with China. And they [China] are good—they’re darn good at seducing and wining and dining.
[One person] said that in the movie, he said that. You know, when you argue, “wine and dine me” and stuff like that you’ve got caught like a fish. Exactly, this is the way they do it. It worked. It worked to the point where, did you see on his desk all the Chinese little things that he has there? These are expensive gifts. These are indicators that we look for when we want to see if somebody has been compromised. And there’s a lot of people who get compromised without even realizing because they love China, they love the language. This is a country with a millennia culture, they have so much culture, they have brought so much to the world and to history and at the same time they’re darn good. Really good.
Audience Question: Does the Chinese government also try to infiltrate Canada [in ways other than through] education? Is there any precedence for this from any other country beside China? Anything to watch for in other institutions?
Michel Juneau-Katsuya: From the spook point of view, yes there is more to watch. The Chinese have developed what we call the mass collection process. The mass collection process basically using all the people that are, as much as possible, influential enough to try to use them as a way to collect information.
There are alternatives that can teach us about Chinese culture or Chinese language. It would be sad indeed that the Canadians be duped to the point of missing exactly the threat that is in front of us.
CSIS is not in the business of culture or language or anything like this. We don’t compete with other institutions. What we do is we try to protect the Canadian government. When we collect evidence, evidence that is supported by other intelligence services, that certain activities are actually a masquerade in order to be capable to perform a greater harm to our organization or our country, that’s where we step in, stuff like that.
[Referring to comments from an audience member that he had a good experience taking courses through CI at Carleton University,] I’m certain you had a wonderful experience when you took your classes, just like this gentleman [in the film] who went abroad and was wined and dined. He had a wonderful trip as well. When it comes to the trips abroad we say in French, “une voyage puisque la vie,” and it’s really, really important because it forms your experience and your life. But if the trip is organized by a certain organization and they show you what they want you to see, and they tell you what they want you to hear, and they get you to understand only what they want you to understand, in that perspective we might have a little bit of a challenge.
The concepts of manipulating the mind and propaganda have been around for quite a long period of time. Thankfully, in our institutions, and Carleton [University] is one of them, we develop critical thinking and we need to be capable to balance those things and everything. But, and I’ll stop here, from an intelligence point of view, we do have evidence of spy activity and people being targeted after they took a course because they’ve shown interest in China and that was a way to approach them in a way other than by an intelligence officer. The evidence is there.
David Kilgour: David Matas and I were asked in 2006 to look into allegations of organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners [in China]. We’ve now spent 10 years travelling around to about 50 countries talking about this. To our dismay, we found about 30 kinds of evidence that [organ harvesting in China] is happening. If one of you want a new liver, for example you can go on internet, the price varies about $100,000-plus, fly to Shanghai, go to [Shanghai No. 1 People’s Hospital], take your blood and tissue type, go on computer, find a prisoner of conscience in one of their many labour camps around the country which I’ms sure you didn’t see while you were there. If there is a match, give some potassium to make [the prisoner of conscience] unconscious—we hope. Their liver is taken out, and of course, they’re dead. The liver is flown to Shanghai in a PLA [People’s Liberation Army] plane. You get a new liver and fly back to Ottawa with a new liver, and that [prisoner of conscience] is dead.
We are so dismayed, there is only one government in the world that does this to my knowledge, and that government is [the government of] China. … That’s the kind of barbaric regime that’s operating there.
We all respect the culture of China. … The people are wonderful, the government is despicable. As long as we get something like CIs going around hoodwinking naive people…we’re going to have this…Why is there a CI at Carleton? How come the University of Pennsylvania kicked them out…University of British Columbia… Why doesn’t Carleton have the backbone to kick them out too? … It’s an absolute outrage that Carleton University should have a CI. What’s even worse for me is, I’m from Edmonton, the Edmonton Public School Board has a CI.
Doris Liu: CI is one of the Chinese government’s overseas propaganda setup. That’s the words by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) [former] propaganda chief. China spends annually around $10 billion on overseas propaganda, overseas institutions, including movies…. The Chinese-language media here in Canada is infiltrated by the Chinese government, perhaps only a couple are independent from the influence of Chinese government, all the others are either influenced or controlled.
I was a Chinese-language journalist before I made this film. I worked in GTA, so I know that very well. Chinese firms are thinking to buy our Canadian energy sectors as well. Our current prime minister, I think is very happy about that, engaging China to do that, which I do have concerns.
I am Chinese myself. I came to Canada 12 years ago. [If anyone wanted] to learn Chinese language and culture that would [make me so happy]. That’s my own language and culture. I would encourage everyone to learn that, because we have 5,000 years of history and culture, which we all as human beings can benefit from. But the question is at what cost—what price we are paying to learn that. Is there another alternative than CI where we can also learn Chinese language and culture, and perhaps learn better Chinese culture? The issue of culture is another issue, I haven’t got time to explore that area of CI in my film, that’s a big topic.
To put that topic into context, we all know China endured a 10-year cultural revolution during the 1960s to 1970s. During those 10 years, under the leadership of Mao Zedong, Chinese traditional culture [was] destroyed, traditional Buddhism, Taoism, religions, architecture, arts, music, you name it, all forms of culture and heritage [were rooted out] and destroyed mostly. I was born in the 70s, and I am regretful that I couldn’t have a chance to experience such authentic Chinese culture.
When we welcome CI on our own campus, like McMaster University did, .. that means you give your prestige, you give your stage to a foreign government on your campus to dictate what to be taught, who teaches you.
Perhaps the situation at Carleton’s CI is a little bit different. They have their own steering council, they do not really use Chinese textbooks [textbooks from China], they say they have academic independence.
But the thing is, look at the situation happening at McMaster, they didn’t want to close the CI. They spent a good year to negotiate, to discuss with Chinese partners, which is Hanban in China [as well as a Chinese university], who sent them the teachers. They wanted the Chinese partner to withdraw that discriminatory hiring policy, but they failed. They couldn’t do that. Because they say CI have to comply with both Chinese and Canadian law, that’s in the contract. Even though the Chinese law does not have any clause that say you need to discriminate against people who practice Falun Gong, but the reality is practitioners of Falun Gong are not only discriminated against, but also killed in China, and they carry that policy into our campuses.
Even though Chinese teachers at Carleton University’s CI don’t practice Falun Gong, they may say I am not a Falun Gong practitioner, I am not discriminated against by this policy, but every teacher sent to your campus is hired under that policy. Would you say that is non-discriminatory? So even that—regardless of any other concerns with academic freedom or other propaganda material, censorship, self-censorship, espionage— just think about this discrimination [aspect], I would argue, think about it twice.
It’s different if CIs [operate] independently, outside of our campuses, outside of our universities. We have an open and free society, you can come into our land, but don’t use our name.
Michel Juneau-Katsuya: By nature, the spies hide. The spies are strategic and we try to sort of camouflage as much as possible what we try to do and what the opponent is trying to do.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in my years in my field from the Chinese is that the Chinese understand one thing a long, long time ago, which is that influence is much more powerful than control.
So somewhere, somehow, you’ve got to work hard, to study hard, and observe for a long period of time to understand. But the notion of them influence is central into their strategy. If I am capable to influence a person to the point where I can now control that person, I already won everything. This is what the Chinese have been trying with these officials. Trying to sort of lure them, seduce them, bribe them, and successfully go there.
Even the previous government, the Conservative government, Mr. Harper was hard like a rock, was able to let himself be influenced. He sold a company in Alberta, a $15 billion oil and gas company. Try, as a Canadian company, as any company, a foreign company, to go buy an energy company in China. It’ll never happen. It’ll never happen because they [know] the importance of that.
I’m a Canadian citizen. If I want to call the premier of Alberta, if I want to call the prime minister of Canada, I’ll probably be put on hold and stay on hold for quite a long time. If I’m a Chinese company controlled by the Chinese government by the way, who just bought for $15 billion a company in Alberta, and I call, I’m put through. This is the notion of influence [China] understood a long time ago. This is the risk that we are facing.
Doris Liu: When I was making the film, I invited Carleton University to participate [in this screening and panel discussion], they rejected. I personally invited all CI staff at Carleton plus others. Only one email response [ was received]. Others did not reply.
I welcome discussion. The purpose of making this film is to bring the issue to the attention of the public and educators and government. Unfortunately, it’s very very challenging for me to get access to the other side of the story. If you are so confident, why not respond to [those concerns], because they are not small concerns, they are not small amounts of concerns … You should address it; you should respond to those serious concerns. I am not saying you should close today, CI, I really encourage you, any educational institutions [to respond and re-consider].
The following is a commentary issued by a University of Carleton spokesperson to The Epoch Times in response to the documentary and panel discussion:
Carleton values the academic partnership with the Confucius Institute established in April 2012. The university is open to all languages and cultures and we value the different opinions expressed by faculty members and students. Carleton doesn’t seek to limit the expressions of divergent viewpoints.
There is zero evidence that anything prejudicial has been or is being taught in courses sponsored by the institute.
All of the institute’s activities and programs are in keeping with Carleton’s academic mission and the stated purpose of the Confucius Institute, which is to serve as a platform to explore the growing relationship between China and Canada.