Pro-Beijing Chinese have been staging demonstrations in several foreign cities over the past month against people who support the Hong Kong protests.
Some media have criticized the governments of Australia, Canada and other democratic nations for allowing pro-China protests — a freedom that would never be granted to foreign students in China.
However, this freedom cannot extend to intimidating or harassing others, or obstructing them from expressing their views.
Authorities should also investigate allegations that Beijing has been bankrolling the counter-demonstrations, or simply coercing Chinese into joining them, which has reportedly been the case over the past few weeks.
The Vancouver Sun on Tuesday reported that the Chinese government sent direct instructions to Chinese living abroad as recently as August last year. The Chinese Communist Party Central Committee at the time urged overseas Chinese to “remember the call from the party and the people” and “spread China’s voice,” the paper reported.
“We know the consulate is encouraging the pro-government segment to be more vocal,” the paper quoted University of British Columbia (UBC) Chinese cultural history professor Leo Shin (單國鉞) as saying. “These ties don’t come with blatant quid pro quos, but with subtle and unspoken requests of support for the Chinese regime, which is mindful of the importance of public opinion,” he added.
The report also cited UBC Asian Studies professor Josephine Chiu-Duke, who said newer immigrants to Canada might be conflicted between Canada’s liberal values on the one hand and their deep-seated cultural ties to China on the other.
However, overseas students from China might not feel safe engaging in rational dialogue that questions Beijing’s rhetoric. After protesters in Hong Kong threw a Chinese flag into Victoria Harbour, supporters in Melbourne were reportedly harassed by pro-China students who filmed them and demanded: “Are you on the same side as those people who threw our flag into the harbor?”
The pro-China students then allegedly threatened pro-Hong Kong demonstrators by saying: “We’ll upload video of this to Weibo, then see if you all are still alive tomorrow.”
The article also cites a student from China’s Sichuan Province who attempted to engage the Hong Kong supporters in dialogue, only to be harassed by fellow Chinese students who said she “needs to be reported to the consulate,” and who then allegedly circulated her image on Chinese social media to denounce her.
In addition, a march planned for Saturday last week by pro-Hong Kong demonstrators in Toronto was blocked by pro-China demonstrators who had assembled without a permit, CTV news said. The Hong Kong supporters attempted to continue their demonstration at the march’s starting point, where they were trapped, but the pro-China protesters blasted the Chinese national anthem and shouted obscenities at them.
Wealthy Chinese students, who were later found to be tied to Chinese Communist Party officials in China’s Shandong Province, showed up in expensive sports cars draped in Chinese flags and began revving their engines to intimidate and drown out the Hong Kong supporters’ chants.
Democratic nations protect freedom of speech, but that freedom must not infringe on the rights of others.
Governments must require demonstrators to acquire permits, require minimum space between simultaneous demonstrations, protect the right of lawful marches to be held unimpeded and persecute as “foreign agents” those found to be acting on instructions from foreign governments — particularly when they threaten others.
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