As Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) passed through the Canadian capital late last month ahead of the G20 meeting, there was yet another example of the nefarious influence the Chinese government is having on freedom of expression worldwide. Given Taiwan’s proximity to — and increasingly close ties with — the Asian giant, this latest development should serve as a warning.
While the great majority of state visits with world leaders in Ottawa conclude with a press conference, Hu’s didn’t. In fact, it has since been revealed that the office of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed to cancel the joint press conference to prevent critical Chinese journalists from participating. The Chinese embassy in Ottawa was reportedly concerned that the press conference would include reporters from two media organizations reviled by Beijing — the Epoch Times and New Tang Dynasty TV.
A few weeks prior to Hu’s visit, the Chinese embassy had reporters from those two organizations barred from attending the press conference. The request was first turned down by the parliamentary press gallery, on the grounds that the media organizations were full members of the gallery.
Not to be dissuaded, the embassy then went straight to the prime minister’s office. Initially, as the Globe and Mail reported, Harper’s office attempted to strike a compromise with the gallery. Facing principled opposition, Harper’s office decided to cancel the press conference altogether, sparking accusations from Helene Buzzetti, president of the parliamentary press gallery in Ottawa, that Harper had agreed to Chinese censorship.
To add irritant to the Hu-Harper lovefest, many Canadian entrepreneurs who straddle the fine line between business and policy-making, including Power Corp chief executive (and son-in-law of former Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien) Andre Demarais, gravitated to Hu like moons round a planet.
The Desmarais family, who for many years has been the “architects” of Canada’s China policy, developed strong ties with some leading Chinese families, notably those of former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平), former deputy premier Bo Yibo (薄一波) and former premier Li Peng (李鵬).
One photo of a dinner held in Hu’s honor and released by the prime minister’s office had Demarais, who was seated to Hu’s right, conveniently blocked by what else — the perfect metaphor: a small Chinese flag.
Around the time Hu was in Ottawa, Canada’s civilian spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), released an unclassified version of a report that pointed to strong evidence of China acting as an “agent of influence” on federal and provincial officials.
“In Canada,” David Harris, a former CSIS official, wrote in a July 1 opinion piece, “Beijing spies, bullies recalcitrant Canadian Chinese, funds ‘spontaneous’ pro-Chinese demonstrations, and otherwise interferes in our democracy.”
This interference includes seducing politicians, public servants, academics, lawyers and other professionals. It also comes in the form of current and former Department of Foreign Affairs officials sitting on the board of a major China-connected trade organization.
The consequences of this influence by the Chinese government on Canadian liberties are encapsulated in the story of a former member of parliament — an earnest defender of Taiwan — suddenly embracing Beijing’s “one China” policy and forcing that view on other ministers and officials.