Beijing’s influence operations not only exert political influence during Canadian election campaigns, but also extend to “politicians, public servants, political actors, former parliamentarians, and diplomats,” according to a report (pdf) published in May.
While influence operations orchestrated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) happen federally in Canada, the Chinese regime’s political influence strategy is more often aimed at politicians at the provincial and municipal levels, the report “In Plain Sight: Beijing’s Unrestricted Network of Foreign Influence in Canada” by Alliance Canada Hong Kong notes.
“Local politicians are less likely to be concerned with foreign affairs matters, which is seen as a primarily federal issue,” the report reads.
It also notes that this gives the CCP the opportunity to capitalize on this lack of awareness to execute their plans, unbeknownst to political actors.
For instance, the CCP incentivized political actors at the provincial, territorial, and municipal levels with lucrative business deals and investment projects that benefit their local communities. However, accepting those offers has rendered them vulnerable to political influence as they become reliant on the communist regime.
The report cites the example of resource extraction projects in Newfoundland and Labrador approved by the federal government and celebrated by the provincial government in December 2019.
The deal in Newfoundland and Labrador is with China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC) Petroleum North America ULC, whose parent company, CNOOC, is a state-owned enterprise with strong ties to the Chinese military. CNOOC was blacklisted in the United States under the Trump administration due to national security issues and was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange in March.
Another example, according to the report, is Ontario’s former Immigration and Trade Minister Michael Chan. The Canadian Security Intelligence Services alleged in 2010 that Chan had “developed too close a relationship with China’s consulate in Toronto” when, at one point, they were “having daily conversations,” making the trade minister susceptible to foreign influence by Beijing.
As for elections, the report expounds on how the CCP provides incentives to Chinese and diasporic communities to elect politicians who favor engagement with Beijing. Often without the knowledge of the political candidates, their WeChat campaign groups are “quickly taken over by individuals and groups” with vested interests with or close ties to the Chinese regime.
In October 2018, the RCMP from the City of Richmond in British Columbia began investigating a vote-buying scheme after they became aware that the Canada Wenzhou Friendship Society had allegedly sent out messages on its WeChat group, offering a $20 transportation subsidy to members in exchange for voting for certain political candidates of Chinese descent.
The society, established in 2001, is a member of the Canadian Alliance of Chinese Association, which is pro-Beijing. The alliance recently called on its more than 100 members to voice support for the 2022 Winter Beijing Olympic in an attempt to sway public opinion, despite a genocide taking place in Xinjiang against Uyghurs and other Muslims minorities.
However, the report states that these groups form a small minority and don’t represent the vast majority of the Chinese diaspora in Canada.
Another tactic used is “elite capture,” in which the CCP targets Canadian influential figures and decision-makers by first offering them something attractive that appeals to their personal, social, political, and professional interests, and then uses it against them later to force them into compliance with the regime’s request.
Examples cited in the report include all-expenses-paid trips to China, invitations to events that connect them to Chinese business opportunities, cultural event sponsorships, and cash-for-access events, among others.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stirred some 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 CCP also exerts its influence in Canadian academia in the name of “win-win collaboration.” The regime’s “Thousand Talents Plan” is the recruitment of an “overseas network of researchers, scientists, and scholars” for the purpose of transferring their knowledge to serve Beijing’s strategic goals, the report says. Likewise, the regime appeals to academics by offering them grants to support their research, but may request them to transfer their research findings upon renewal of the agreement.
To “tell China’s story,” Beijing is actively dismantling journalism by “creating a Chinese social media empire, grooming web warriors to steer online discourse, compromising social media influencers, and destroying the watchdog role journalists are meant to play,” according to the report.
Other areas of concern in the report include the CCP’s use of surveillance and intimidation against diaspora and dissident communities, national security threats such as the “debt-trap diplomacy” associated with its Belt and Road Initiative, and the United Front operations that aim to sway Canadians buying into the regime’s narratives.
“There have been notable incidents of China’s inappropriate and overreaching political influence documented in Canada and among allied countries,” the report reads. “But the CCP’s influence operations have largely gone unnoticed, if not ignored, by politicians, oversight bodies, the media, and the public.”
With reporting from Omid Ghoreishi