This article originally appeared in the National Post.
By Christian Leuprecht, March 23, 2023
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its supporters have long been strategic about using allegations of racism as a shield to prevent the Canadian government from fighting foreign interference. Canadian elites who parrot Beijing’s lines are falling squarely into its trap.
One of the biggest brakes on collective action by Canadians of all stripes and at all levels — federal, provincial, municipal, academic, media — is the misapprehension that inaction spares Canadians of Chinese heritage from racism. Conversely, any action supposedly risks increasing racism, racial profiling and other indignities.
On a recent episode of CBC’s “Ideas,” one interviewee went so far as to invoke the internment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War, cautioning against “the biggest concern”: a repeat of history.
That line of argument is simply wrong. It is grounded neither in fact nor in history, but it is actively encouraged by the CCP. It’s curious that members of Canada’s elite who trumpet that line already tend to have a robust record of cozying up to Beijing.
A public inquiry could readily ascertain the extent to which they are actually beholden to the regime. The prime minister’s staunch refusal to call such an inquiry is stoking flames of suspicion.
Yet those who have for years warned of growing interference and have discussed their personal experiences of being harassed by a foreign government are overwhelmingly Asian-Canadians. Canadians of Chinese heritage are already being racially profiled on Canadian soil — by the United Front Work Department’s (UFWD) Overseas Chinese Affairs Office.
Which makes the Japanese internment example so irresponsible and ignorant, but powerful as a recipe for inaction. During the Second World War, Japanese-Canadians were not being systematically targeted and harassed in Canada by the imperial Japanese government. They were being scapegoated by Canadians. That is not the source of the threat here.
Canada urgently needs a (much) more sophisticated public discussion of who the real victims of the Chinese government’s racial narratives are. The CCP’s propaganda aims to convince those who are of Chinese heritage that they owe allegiance to the motherland. That kind of CCP-driven narrative is the root cause of much of the racism here, and it’s exacerbated by members of Canada’s elite who have been amplifying Beijing’s false narratives.
Canadians of Chinese heritage, no less than of any other heritage, must know that they can count on the full and active support of the federal government in combating foreign interference and disinformation aimed at them. Victims of CCP racism have been speaking out for years, but their cries for help are being drowned out by false narratives designed to play into the hands of the Chinese government.
Invoking the risk of racism as an excuse not to tackle foreign interference as a non-partisan project ignores that racism is a core part of the Chinese government’s toolkit. The same issue played out in Australia, which took some time to realize what was going on.
The proven ways to navigate this minefield include actions that strengthen transparency and are geo-agnostic. We need to follow the money and be on the lookout for foreign-language discourse on apps such as WeChat that bear a suspicious resemblance to CCP propaganda — as was famously the case for Conservative MP Kenny Chiu.
That is foreign interference, and sunshine — in the form of policies that thwart foreign interference as well as racism — is the best disinfectant. A foreign registry act would be useful, but solely focusing on politics and elections is not enough. We need to shed light on research communities, universities, supply chains, critical infrastructure and more.
In addition to sunshine, we need action. The Chinese diaspora in Canada has been reporting harassment and infiltration from the CCP for years — from Confucius Institute, Chinese police stations and other sources. What action has the Canadian government taken? It’s banned TikTok from government-owned devices. Needless to say, this is not nearly enough.
A pre-emptive dose of sunshine and action can side-step much of the interference and risk of racism by ensuring Canadians feel confident when a fellow Canadian of any background is seeking public office or speaking at a conference. Sunny ways, instead of sleeping with the enemy.
Threats and harassment of the Hong Kong, Uyghur, Tibetan and Chinese diaspora in Canada are real, but the threats are from the CCP, not from Canadians.
Christian Leuprecht is a professor at the Royal Military College and Queen’s University, senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and author of “Intelligence as Democratic Statecraft.”