Terry Glavin: Who do Chinese diplomats think they are, threatening Canadians this way?
29 July 2020
Here we go again. Another emissary from the People’s Republic of China warning Canadians yet again to mind their manners. More sinister propaganda in aid of whitewashing Beijing’s massive police-state crackdown in Hong Kong as a perfectly normal, unremarkable and necessary exercise in law enforcement. More thinly-veiled threats.
This time around it’s Tong Xiaoling, China’s consul general in Vancouver. In a Monday interview with the self-described “Voice of Vancouver’s Chinese Community,” AM 1320, Tong singled out what she called “an extremely small group of people” in Metro Vancouver’s ethnic Chinese community who are “deliberately smearing and attacking Hong Kong’s national security law” and “collaborating with anti-Chinese powers in attempts to cause trouble overseas, to even create bases in foreign countries to stand against China and disrupt Hong Kong.”
The alleged activities Tong described are specifically outlawed in the sweeping national security law that Beijing has imposed on Hong Kong in Xi Jinping’s efforts to crush the nominally autonomous city-state’s vigorous pro-democracy movement. The new law applies not just to Hong Kong residents but to anyone, of any nationality or citizenship, anywhere in the world.
Unilaterally imposed on Hong Kong’s legislative council effective July 1, in direct contravention of the Sino-British treaty that allowed for Britain’s handover of Hong Kong to Beijing in 1997, the statute purports to outlaw secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign or external forces. Offences under the law are punishable by life imprisonment.
The law’s overseas critics are sowing division in overseas Chinese communities and “trying to destroy the Canada-China relationship,” Tong said. Tong then issued specific instructions to Metro Vancouver’s half-million-strong Chinese diaspora: “Understand what is right, and don’t be misled by a minority group who are anti-China and engaged in disruptive activities. Do not participate in their destructive actions, so we can better protect China-Canada relations … those in the Chinese community, those who want to create divisions or a climate of terror, who are plotting schemes, their plans are doomed to fail.”
Cherie Wong of the pro-democracy Alliance-Canada Hong Kong organization calls Tong’s remarks an explicit threat to the safety of Chinese-Canadians. It’s the kind of threat that Chinese officials are increasingly communicating through Chinese-language media in Canada, and through the various front groups Beijing operates in various Chinese-Canadian communities under the direction of Beijing’s United Front Work Department.
The Chinese Communist Party is aiming to “unify all ethnic Chinese groups under the Chinese regime,” Wong says, and to “mute criticism of its heavy-handed response in Hong Kong, and concentration camps in East Turkestan (also known as Xinjiang).”
Blustering along the lines of Tong’s claims that Canadians are “interfering in Chinese affairs” is not a recent phenomenon. As far back as 1990, Vancouver’s Chinese consul general An Wenbin warned the University of British Columbia that the erection of the now-famous “Goddess of Democracy” statue on campus, to commemorate the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre in Beijing, was “an attempt to interfere into China’s internal affairs” that would “surely harm in concrete terms the existing relations between UBC and China.”
But Beijing’s power and influence in Canada, aided by compliant corporate and political figures, has grown dramatically over the past 30 years. So has the Chinese Communist Party’s penchant for brutal repression at home and swaggering belligerence abroad. Tong’s threats are just the latest in a series of menacing statements from Chinese diplomats in recent weeks. Earlier this month, Chinese ambassador Cong Peiwu accused Canada of interfering in Chinese affairs for merely cancelling an extradition agreement with Hong Kong and barring sales of Canadian equipment to the hated Hong Kong Police Force. Canada would be made to “bear the consequences” of its decision, Cong said. “I’d like to suggest you just wait and see.”
Ottawa continues to avoid putting up any effective resistance, however, even while Beijing continues to imprison Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in retaliation for Canada merely acting on a U.S. Justice Department request to extradite Meng Wanzhou, Huawei Technologies’ chief financial officer. Meng is facing several counts of bank fraud and conspiracy in New York, related to alleged evasions of sanctions on Iran.
Meng’s detention set off a barrage of Chinese retaliatory measures, and Meng bides her time in one of her mansions in Vancouver’s posh Shaughnessy district while her lawyers fight the U.S. extradition request. In its latest effort to spring Meng, Huawei has recently hired five separate law firms to apply pressure on HSBC Bank, according to reports in the South China Morning Post this week. China’s state propaganda has lately accused HSBC of colluding with the Federal Bureau of Investigations to “frame” Meng. HSBC has responded by backing Beijing’s national security law in Hong Kong, in the hope of getting the Chinese Communist Party’s boot off the bank’s neck.
With Chinese corporate and diplomatic officials continuing to throw their weight around in Canada, threatening expatriate Hong Kongers and Uyghur human rights activists, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians calls Canada an “attractive and permissive target” for Chinese interference. “The government must do better,” NSICOP stated in its annual report, released in March. “The threat is real, if often hidden … If it is not addressed in a comprehensive, whole-of-government approach, foreign interference will slowly erode the foundations of our fundamental institutions, including our system of democracy itself.”
But Ottawa is not addressing the threat by any approach. The Trudeau government has broken with Canada’s Five Eyes intelligence-sharing partners — the U.S., the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand — by refusing to bar Huawei from Canada’s fifth-generation (5G) internet connectivity architecture. And Ottawa has failed to establish a central law-enforcement office to address a campaign of harassment and intimidation, meticulously documented by Amnesty International and a coalition of diaspora groups, that Beijing’s agents in Canada are mounting against expatriate Hongkongers and Uyghur human rights activists here.
Last December, Justin Trudeau’s minority government was outvoted in its attempt to prevent the establishment of a special Parliamentary committee to review the shambolic Canada-China relationship. While the committee trundled along through the early spring, pro-democracy Hongkongers and Uyghurs expressed shock in May when New Democrats and Greens voted with the Liberals against a Conservative motion to reconvene the Canada-China committee to address the Hong Kong crisis. But last week, that vote was overturned. The committee is up and running again this week.
It would serve Parliament well, and do some service to the cause of “the foundations of our fundamental institutions, including our system of democracy itself,” as NSICOP put it, if the Canada-China committee summoned the Vancouver consul general Tong Xiaoling, and Ambassador Cong Peiwu, so that they might explain who the hell they think they are, threatening Canadians in these ways.