Comprehensive report reveals the extent of China’s influence and propaganda operations around the world
From stifling dissident voices to influencing politics, media, and education, from manipulating information to utilizing local organizations, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is using every non-kinetic means in its toolbox to sway Canada and Chinese-Canadians, says the report, titled “Chinese Influence Operations: A Machiavellian Moment.”
While Canada has yet to react effectively to these threats, the report says, a changing mood in France toward the Beijing regime is what led to the 640-page report published in September by the Institut de Recherche Stratégique de l’Ecole Militaire (IRSEM), a think tank funded by the Ministry of the Armed Forces.
“The awakening in France to the risk posed by Chinese influence is sharp and has been increasing since 2019, with a marked acceleration in 2020-2021. It’s in this context of ‘French awakening,’ which henceforth seems irreversible, that this report was published,” write authors Dr. Paul Charon and Dr. Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer.
The Chinese Embassy in France declared it was “scandalized” by the IRSEM report, which covers the CCP’s expanding influence and propaganda operations worldwide. The Embassy called the report “purely and simply a stigmatization operation against China” and a threat to normal relations between France and China.
China’s interests in Canada lie “first and foremost in its Chinese diaspora, which includes a high number of real or presumed dissidents,” the report says. One of the regime’s priorities worldwide is to stifle advocates for Tibetans, Uyghurs, Falun Gong, Taiwan independence, and Chinese democracy, and that fight is also being conducted on Canadian soil, it says.
Canada is also a target because of “its all-around proximity with its chief rival the United States; its membership in key alliances such as NATO and the Five Eyes; its place in the Arctic; its image as an exemplary liberal democracy, which makes it a symbolic target; and the fact that it’s a middle power, which minimizes potential repercussions,” says the report.
The report highlights numerous cases of attempts by the CCP to silence dissidents and groups in Canada that it persecutes at home.
For example, the Chinese consul general in Toronto was found guilty of libel in 2004 for defaming a local businessman who practises Falun Gong. In 2006, the visa of a Chinese Embassy diplomat was not renewed when it was revealed his main task was to track and harass Falun Gong practitioners in Canada.
Counter-demonstrations against opponents of the regime are also “systematic and aggressive,” the report said, giving the example of Chinese missions mobilizing groups against pro-Hong Kong democracy protests. People protesting against the regime in Canada also may have their pictures surreptitiously taken and sent to China, which could lead to arrest if they try to enter China, or to their families in China being pressured or intimidated.
Chinese dissidents are also victims of defamation and intimidation campaigns, says the report. Among other examples is the case of author Sheng Xue, who came to Canada after the Tiananmen Square massacre. In 2012, a month after receiving the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, Sheng was elected president of the Federation for a Democratic China. She immediately became the target of a defamation campaign, with rumours and doctored images of her circulated on social media. The report says the campaign was successful in greatly hurting the federation’s membership, eventually leading to its fracturing and Sheng’s resignation.
Constant surveillance of dissident communities, cyberattacks, refusal of visas, and identity fraud (CCP agents sending messages to elected officials pretending to be members of a community to discredit that community) are other tools used by Beijing in Canada, according to the report.
The section of the report on political influence operations in Canada opens with a comment from former Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) director Richard Fadden to the CBC about politicians under foreign influence, which created waves back in 2010.
“There are several municipal politicians in British Columbia, and in at least two provinces there are ministers of the Crown who we think are under at least the general influence of a foreign government,” said Fadden.
That foreign government was widely believed to be China and one of the ministers was later identified as Michael Chan in Ontario, says the report based on Globe and Mail reporting.
While politicians of Chinese origin are followed closely by Beijing, the report also notes methods used to seduce politicians in general with all-expenses-paid trips to China.
Again citing the Globe and Mail, the report notes that between 2006 and 2017, legislators from the Senate and the House of Commons took 36 trips to China, many of which were financed by the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs, an organ of the CCP’s United Front Work Department. Used to build pro-CCP alliances around the world, the United Front’s operations include gathering intelligence on and attempting to influence elite individuals and organizations.
Former Liberal MP John McCallum took trips to China valuing at $73,300 between 2008 and 2015, with the Chinese government or pro-Beijing groups in Canada footing the bill.
McCallum later became the minister of immigration, and afterwards Canadian ambassador to China, a post he was removed from in 2019 after providing arguments for the defence of Huawei CFO Meng Wangzhou, who was facing extradition to the United States for fraud.
The report describes Beijing’s influence at the municipal level, as well as interference in federal elections. In the recent 2021 election, Conservative candidate Kenny Chiu, who was seeking re-election in the B.C. riding of Steveston–Richmond East, was targeted in an effort to rob him of votes.
Chiu, who had a record of taking positions critical of Beijing, said he had been the target of misinformation in previous campaigns, but it was “exceptional’ during the last election. “It’s nothing compared to what I’ve seen—it’s multi-dimensional,” Chiu told The Epoch Times during the campaign, referring to social media posts, radio commentaries, and online articles in pro-Beijing media that portrayed him negatively.
Chiu said he was suddenly given the cold shoulder by former supporters, and it was reflected at the ballot box when he lost his seat to Liberal Parm Bains.
During the election, Chinese state-owned media also published hostile reports on the Conservative Party and its leader Erin O’Toole, who has taken a strong position against the CCP.
Media Under Control
The IRSEM report says that in Canada, the “quasi totality of Chinese-language media are controlled by the CCP,” with the exception of The Epoch Times and its sister company NTD Television.
“[This] means that Chinese immigrants who speak little or no English or French have little relative exposure to democratic and liberal values and are not likely to change,” it said, noting that some have lived in Canada for a long time but still have the same communist mentality they had back in China.
The issue of CCP influence in education is multi-faceted, the report demonstrates. It presents data showing that over 20 percent of international students in Canada are Chinese. The problem is that “some of these students work for Beijing,” says the report.
These students can help shape attitudes toward the CCP on campus by exerting pressure on dissident voices or professors, and can also send stolen academic research to China, explains the report.
The report quotes CSIS Director David Vigneault as telling major universities in 2018 that “CSIS assesses that China represents the most significant and clear challenge for (human-enabled espionage) targeted against Canada’s universities.”
The report also covers the topic of the Confucius Institutes, the Beijing-directed language and culture centres that attach themselves to all levels of educational institutions. Notable cases mentioned include the decision by New Brunswick’s Education Minister Dominic Cardy to cancel his province’s contract, saying the “system was being used as a conduit for extending influence.”
The National Post reported that Cardy was paid a visit by the Montreal-based Chinese consul general regarding the cancellation of the contract, who told him going ahead with the move would jeopardize trade between New Brunswick and China. Cardy wasn’t detered. New Brunswick cancelled the program in elementary and middle schools in 2019, and will end it in high schools until 2022.
Limited Pushback By Ottawa
The report says pushback by the federal government against these activities on Canadian soil is hampered by a lack of political will.
“Despite recurrent warnings from CSIS and numerous cases revealed in the press, political resistance—in essence a propensity to perceive China as a partner more than a threat—remains strong in Canada,” write the authors.
After the release and departure from Canada of Huawei CFO Meng Wangzhou on Sept. 24, and the concurrent return of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor who had been arbitrarily detained in China for almost three years, Foreign Minister Marc Garneau said the country is now taking a fourfold approach to China: “coexist,” “compete,” “co-operate,” and “challenge.”
Following Garneau’s announcement on the China policy front, former Canadian ambassador to China David Mulroney commented on Twitter: “Don’t expect radical change from people who until recently extolled comprehensive engagement. What’s wrong with our foreign policy is beyond a tweak or two. And the urgent issue is now domestic: Chinese influence and interference in Canada.”
While the IRSEM report identifies numerous facets of Beijing’s influence in Canada, it does not address the sway of the China lobby.
Mulroney tweeted on Oct. 6 that “Canada’s China lobby traffics in 3 potent falsehoods: moral equivalence of Canada and China, demonization of the US, and denial of the China threat. This plays to our progressive guilt, our North American vanity and our disinclination to do or spend anything to defend ourselves.”
Neither does the report mention “elite capture” in Canada, meaning rich and powerful Canadians who align with Beijing to further the regime’s interests and have a direct impact on Canada’s China policy.
Jonathan Manthorpe’s book “Claws of the Panda: Beijing’s Campaign of Influence and Intimidation in Canada” is extensively cited in the IRSEM report. In 2019, Manthorpe wrote in Asia Times that the “two Michaels” issue had a profound impact on how China is perceived by Canada’s elite, which believed there was a “special relationship based on genuine friendship for Canada among the top echelons of the Chinese Communist Party.”
“That delusion is the result of an extraordinarily successful campaign of ‘elite capture’ mounted by CCP agencies,” he wrote.
“The campaign generated an overly benign and unsuspecting attitude towards Beijing and the CCP among Canada’s political, official, academic and business decision-makers. That has allowed CCP agencies to influence Canadian politics, obtain access to Canadian resources and patented technologies, take almost complete editorial control over Canadian Chinese language media and to be able to send Ministry of State Security agents to Canada to intimidate Canadian citizens who Beijing considers to be dissidents.”
Manthorpe told The Epoch Times that he finds the French report “an impressive work.”
“So far as the Canadian section is concerned, the IRSEM writers have done a thorough job of reporting the studies and assessments by all the Canadians who have been warning for years about influence and infiltration by agents of the Chinese Communist Party,” he said.
Four days after Kovrig and Spavor were released, the Canada-China Business Council (CCBC) held a webinar on China’s 14th Five-Year Plan (14th FYP) to help Canadian businesses navigate developments in the Chinese economy and “seize upcoming China market opportunities.”
Canada’s ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, and Chinese ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, both provided remarks.
A description of the event says “Canadian companies that can contribute to China’s new objectives are likely to thrive; those that cannot may face a more difficult operating environment in the years to come.”
A report produced by the CCBC and Trivium China says that “ensuring ‘economic security’ is a key theme of the 14th FYP.”
A summary of the report notes that the “political picture for Canadian businesses [in China] is growing more complicated,” but still suggests that “companies should look to frame their business operations in China as being in line with Beijing’s strategic goals.”
One of the founding members of the CCBC, which was formed in 1978, is Montreal-based Power Corporation, a multibillion-dollar financial services company. In his book, Manthorpe describes Power Corp. as “the premier gatekeeper of [Canada’s] formal relations with China.”
If that’s an example of elite capture on the business side, the Meng affair demonstrated how former senior political figures tried to influence the China debate and policy.
The IRSEM report notes the effort in June 2020 by 19 former parliamentarians and senior diplomats, including two former foreign affairs ministers, who wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking him to release Meng unilaterally. “Complying with the U.S. request has greatly antagonized China,” the signatories wrote, adding that Meng’s release could in turn free Kovrig and Spavor.
“More broadly, the letter was a call to ‘redefine Canada’s China strategy’ to not alienate China,” says the report.
While elements in the business and political sphere may be reluctant to recognize and tackle the CCP threat, Canadians’ attitudes toward the regime have changed in recent years.
The report cites a 2019 Nanos survey suggesting that over 80 percent of Canadians have a negative impression of China’s rulers, and 53 percent think China poses a major national security threat to Canada.
The report explains the Meng affair, a more aggressive Chinese diplomacy, and the publication of Manthorpe’s book have “stirred a debate and contributed to increasing mistrust from the political class and the public toward Beijing.”
“More generally, revelations these recent years about spy cases, influence operations, mass detentions and even, according to some, the genocide of Uyghurs, and finally the violent suppression of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong have, during that period, considerably hurt China’s image in Canada, just like elsewhere in the world,” says the report.