Investigative journalist Sam Cooper’s new book, “Wilful Blindness: How a Network of Narcos, Tycoons and CCP Agents Infiltrated the West,” offers an in-depth look at how massive international crime networks are targeting democracies worldwide and how authorities in some cases have been looking away.
The book follows Cooper’s investigation of suspicious money-laundering activities in Vancouver’s casinos. Following the money trails, Cooper uncovers the intricate connections between drug trafficking organizations in Canada, Hong Kong triad gangs, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The book covers how criminal proceedings fuelled an opioid crisis in Canada while driving real estate costs so high as to make them unaffordable for many, and how in many cases the hands of law enforcement officials were tied due to pressure from politicians.
“I found that the people that were facilitating bags of … $20 bills, up to $1.2 million coming into a casino per night with one … whale gambler—these were the very same people that were interacting with people in the Vancouver Chinese Consulate, top-level leaders [who] were interacting with Canadian politicians,” Cooper said during an online book-launch event on May 20.
Cooper explains in his book that the CCP has a focus on controlling the Chinese diaspora abroad so that it can better exert influence in other countries, and it makes use of its United Front Work Department for this purpose.
‘The Hand of Beijing’
According to Charles Burton, a China scholar and former Canadian diplomat to China who also spoke at the book launch, Western countries’ main problem of “wilful blindness” is not understanding the nature of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the ruling communist party.
Burton said that while there seems to be a desire to “pretend that Chinese communist institutions are equivalent to Canadian institutions,” the Chinese regime is in fact “an integrated Party state-military-security-industrial complex,” as described by the PRC’s founding leader Mao Zedong.
“The essence of the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work is in fact to induce … non-communist elements to support the interests of the Chinese Communist Party,” Burton said.
“So really, all mainland institutions—whether they are government institutions, party institutions, or claim to be non-government institutions—are subject to the unified leadership of the Party and coordinated to further the overall interests of power of the Chinese Communist Party,” he said.
In May 2020, at a time when the CCP virus, which causes the disease COVID-19, was raging in China, Cooper reported on how United Front-controlled networks in cities across Canada and other countries around the world called on “overseas Chinese” to collect large quantities of personal protective equipment (PPE) to send to China. Shortly thereafter, these countries themselves faced a shortage of PPE for their front-line health workers.
As the story got more public attention, Cooper became a target of comments bashing his reporting, with some labelling his reporting as “racist.” A petition was also launched demanding that Cooper retract the “disinformation.”
“My story was based on facts, evidence, and direct quotes from official Chinese sources. The story explained that Beijing is trying to control and use all Chinese immigrants abroad. This has been extensively supported by numerous intelligence reports and books,” Cooper said.
“But I had to respond to politically motivated attacks on my story. It wasn’t hard to identify the hand of Beijing,” he said.
‘The Most Awful Sort of Racism’
Ivy Li, a leading figure within the Canadian Friends of Hong Kong group, said during the book-launch event that the United Front Work wants democratic countries to believe that criticism of “anything that is Chinese, or China” will invite backlash from the Chinese community. She noted that “many politicians [are] gladly making use of that fear as an excuse to evade urgently needed discussions or actions.”
But “suppressing legitimate [discussions] will only increase resentment and anger among the public,” Li said, adding that “the United Front Work knows that.” The United Front also knows that incidents of racism will increase that tension and increase the ethnic Chinese community’s fear, and therefore “increase their sense of dependency on the strong CCP-led motherland,” she said.
The best way to counter this, Li said, is to continue to have those “critical discussions” while being aware of what is and isn’t racist.
Li also said that Chinese-Canadians are subject to intimidation by the CCP, which insists that anyone of Han ethnicity must do whatever the CCP asks, “to further [Beijing’s] agenda, even if that means breaking Canadian law or violating the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
Burton spoke to this from the perspective of racism. It puts “an awful aspersion onto the character of ethnic Chinese who have absolutely nothing to do with the Chinese Communist Party [if] the Canadian mainstream believes that they are acting as agents for malign activities by this regime.”
He called it “the most awful sort of racism” to level that kind of accusation against people “who have come to Canada for our freedom and democracy.”
‘Anti-CCP Is Not Anti-China’
Teng Biao, a human rights lawyer and visiting professor at the University of Chicago, also noted that the United Front has used overseas Chinese students to silence critics of the Chinese regime, often forcing them to comply through coercion and harassment. Teng shared his experience of having been invited to join a Columbia University panel discussion on China’s human rights violation in 2019—it was cancelled due to protests by pro-Beijing Chinese students.
“Being against the CCP, the Chinese Communist Party, is not racism; anti-CCP is not anti-China,” Teng said. “People like Sam Cooper and many Chinese writers and scholars, they sacrificed a lot and they dedicated their time, their career, to studying China. And they love China and they love Chinese people, but they have to tell the truth.”
Teng also noted that while democratic countries like Canada and the United States should remain open to people from different cultures, religions, and political systems, it’s also important that these open societies do not become a safe haven for money laundering, corruption, and human trafficking, or for manipulation by dictatorial regimes like the CCP.
Cooper said during the event that a major issue is how the CCP exerts influence on the political and business communities to further its interests.
“This casino money laundering, this trade-based money laundering, these Belt and Road projects, they’re all interrelated into a system where foreign governments, political leaders, business leaders, academics, bureaucrats will be the targets of influence by the same actors active in the casinos,” Cooper said.
The Belt and Road Initiative is an investment project to build trade routes linking China and other parts of the world.
“At the end of the day, it’s not just about fentanyl overdoses, it’s not just about housing crisis, it is truly about democracy,” Cooper said.