TORONTO—Just two days before news emerged that China has mobilized troops near the Hong Kong border, a group of pro-Beijing organizations held a rally in the Toronto area against protesters in Hong Kong. The Aug. 11 event in Markham featured former Ontario cabinet minister Michael Chan as a speaker.
The demonstrations in Hong Kong began in June against an extradition bill that would enable authorities to send those wanted by Beijing to the mainland. Since then the protesters have evolved in their demands, requesting more democracy and autonomy from Beijing as well as an inquiry into police brutality. The Hong Kong government has suspended the bill, but so far has refused to withdraw it.
Chan’s ties to Beijing was the subject of a warning to the provincial government in 2010 by then-head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Richard Fadden, according to a report by The Globe and Mail. Chan has launched a lawsuit against the Globe over the report.
A notice about the Toronto rally said the event included former Ontario MPP Han Dong, who is now seeking the Liberal nomination for Don Valley North. In a Facebook post, Dong distanced himself from the event, saying that neither he nor anyone from his campaign attended it.
The rally was reportedly meant to “support stability and peace in Hong Kong, for a better Hong Kong and China.”
Among the organizations attending were the Confederation of Toronto Chinese Canadian Organizations (CTCCO), Beijing Association, and Council of Newcomer Organizations, which was founded by Liberal MP Geng Tan.
Speakers addressing the rally included well-known figures in the Chinese community who are go-to persons for the Chinese consulate, including Ping Tan and Wei Chengyi. Ping Tan, Wei, and Geng Tan have all been past executive members of the CTCCO. At the rally, Ping Tan was representing the Chinese Canadians for China’s Reunification (GTA) (CCCR) group.
The organizations have also been among those posting ads in local Chinese publications in Canada in support of the crackdown on Hong Kong protesters.
Both the CCCR and CTCCO ran ads in Chinese publication Today Commercial News in July to speak out against the Hong Kong protests. The publication is in part funded by Sally Aw, former owner of the overseas Chinese-language publication Sing Tao.
The National Congress of Chinese Canadians (NCCC), of which Ping Tan was also an executive, ran a similar ad on the front page of the Ontario edition of Sing Tao.
Pro-Beijing groups in Vancouver have also recently printed ads in Sing Tao, as well as another major Chinese-language publication, Ming Pao, calling protesters “radicals.” Signatories of the ad include CTCCO, CCCR, and many others.
Yang Baofeng, president of the Beijing Association, said in her speech at the event, “Hong Kong is China’s territory. Some people want to act wildly in our country. We won’t allow that.”
Yang then added, “Those who humiliate our national emblem and our national flag must be executed/punished.” The Chinese word used by Yang has the dual meaning of “to punish” or “to execute,” the latter being the more common one.
Also present at the rally was the “Tibetan Association of Canada,” a group mired in controversy for faking a letter of support from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed at the time that the letter was not sent by Trudeau.
The group used the fake letter to announce the formation of their so-called association in April, but Tibetan groups in Canada issued a joint statement saying the group doesn’t represent them.
“The strategy of this group, strongly supported by the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese government, seems to be to divide the Tibetan community in Canada,” the Tibetan groups said in a joint statement. “As well, it is misleading senior Canadian officials into thinking that this new group actually represents Tibetans in Canada.”
‘Using Our Democracy’
Gloria Fung, director of the Canada-Hong Kong Link, says it is very typical of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to create “many pro-CCP organizations” in the West to act at the direction of Beijing’s United Front, an agency tasked with increasing the regime’s influence abroad.
“They claim that they can represent all overseas Chinese people, their desires and wishes. I don’t know how they could represent us. At most, they can only represent the Chinese Consulate’s will,” says Fung. “We can see a lot of these organizations are empty organizations. One person can represent a dozen organizations.”
Fung added the tone taken by the organizations is the same as CCP’s line on the Hong Kong protests: the demonstrations are being driven by external forces.
“[The organizations] don’t act on the basis of Canadian values, rule of law, human rights, and freedom.”
Sheng Xue, a Chinese-Canadian author and activist, points out that although many organizations took part in the rally, only around a couple of hundred people attended, meaning many of the organizations don’t have any following.
“They are using our democracy, because they have the right to establish groups here, and they are taking every advantage of that,” Sheng Xue says.
She adds that Beijing tries to use the Chinese diaspora as its “troops” in its efforts to “influence, control, and divide” the Chinese community.
“When people come from mainland China, they have their home and family or relatives back in China, and they may even have their businesses there. So the Chinese government will try to find out if they’re active overseas, or if they are someone that they think that can be used,” she says.
“They will do very, very detailed studies on the person to find out their weakness, and then they will either buy the person or intimidate them to control and influence them.”
Having seen such groups holding similar events in the past, she says she wasn’t surprised by the rally.
Sheng Xue points to gatherings organized in Canada in support of the CCP in 2008, when the Chinese regime began a violent crackdown in Tibet right before the Beijing Olympics, which drew widespread condemnation from Western governments.
She said she is also not surprised that a prominent politician attended the rally, as politicians “have always been a major target of the Chinese government.”
The recent developments in Hong Kong, Sheng Xue says, is quite significant, as the Chinese regime has “already lost” in the region.
“The government tried every way to crackdown on the uprising in Hong Kong, but it didn’t succeed. If now the Chinese government backs down, of course Hong Kong is the winner. If the Chinese government doesn’t stop, and we have another situation like [the Tiananmen Massacre in] Beijing in 1989, the whole world would again see the true nature of the Chinese communists,” she said.
“So the Chinese regime is losing regardless. This is absolutely a turning point for the whole situation.”
Contributing to this “turning point” for the regime, she notes, is the fact that more countries are taking a stronger stance against Beijing, including the United States, Australia, Japan, and some European countries. But, she adds, Canada needs to “become more alert” like these countries.
“In the United States and Australia, they have issued regulations to people who are damaging the democratic processes,” Sheng Xue says, citing Australia’s foreign interference laws as an example. “In Canada, nothing’s happening here in this regard.”
According to a recent survey by Nanos Research for the Globe, the perception of Canadians toward China has turned even more negative compared to last year, with 90 percent saying they hold a negative view of the country, compared to 83 percent in 2018. Relations between Ottawa and Beijing have soured since Canada arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition request, and China arrested Canadians and blocked Canadian imports.
Fung says the Canadian government should take a stronger stance on the Hong Kong issue, and together with its allies, ensure “the requests the people of Hong Kong are respected.”
With reporting by Yi Ling and April Zhu.