Right wing media see a conspiracy of “foreign influence” behind Chinese Canadians switching their vote from the Conservatives. Most of the mainstream media is engaging in Team Canada jingoism over the recent Canada-China prisoner exchange. It almost feels like militaristic propaganda against a wartime enemy.
The Conservatives’ extreme position on China appears to have cost them three incumbent MPs in heavily ethnic Chinese ridings. Conservative Richmond Centre MP Alice Wong, Richmond-Steveston MP Kenny Chiu and Markham-Unionville MP Bob Saroya were all defeated in last week’s election. All three ridings are majority ethnic Chinese. Conservative organizer Karamveer Lalh suggests that ethnically Chinese voters turning away from the party hurt it in a handful of other ridings as well.
A front-page National Post article framed Chinese Canadians rejecting the Conservatives as a Beijing plot. “China Sabotaged my Campaign: ex-MP” blared the paper’s lead headline on Thursday, which was also the top item in the National Post insert in Postmedia dailies across the country. The anti-democratic and conspiratorial story asserts that China intervened through its ambassador, media and WeChat.
The story complained about an interview ambassador Cong Peiwu gave to the Hill Times in August in which he criticized politicians who “hype” or “smear” China, which was presumably a reference to Conservative leader Erin O’Toole who has made attacking China central to his political brand. While it’s good to be vigilant about foreign interventions in domestic affairs — particularly around election time — Cong’s statement was a much less direct intervention than US Senator Bernie Sanders endorsing the NDP or former US President Barack Obama and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton endorsing the Liberals.
The story also complained that some Chinese media criticized the Conservatives and highlighted how many Canadians access Chinese media. A powerful state, China no doubt has significant media. But, on my Roku I regularly watch state-owned al Jazeera, RT and France 24 and how many Canadians have easy access to US media?
Finally, the article bemoans anti-Conservative messages on the Chinese developed free messaging and calling app WeChat. “They have chat rooms and chat groups dedicated to unseating Kenny Chiu”, complained the defeated Conservative in Richmond-Steveston. In other words, Chinese Canadians set up social media forums to communicate their displeasure with the Conservatives and an MP who introduced a bill to establish a Foreign Influence Registry, which would effectively target Chinese Canadians. This is generally called constituents organizing to make their voices heard but the story made it appear sinister noting that the vote “raised the question of whether proxies for the People’s Republic government managed to influence the election — just as security agencies and other watchdogs have warned could happen.” With little evidence, the National Post is suggesting tens of thousands of ethnically Chinese voters acted as “proxies” for the Chinese government.
The McCarthyite tone of the article confirms why Chinese Canadians would be hostile to the cold war style politics pushed by the Conservatives (enabled in part by the Liberals, Greens and NDP). The xenophobia promoted by such propaganda should be opposed by all anti-racist Canadians.
The National Post article also sparked a wave of commentary. A Toronto Sun story headlined, “Investigation needed on whether China interfered in Canada’s election”, asked “Is it possible that Beijing used agents in Canada to ensure their result and silence critics?” Another National Post article titled “Canada needs to talk about China’s apparent election interference” claimed the vote “highlighted an emerging problem that all Canadians should be worrying about: China’s interference into Canada’s domestic politics.”
While right wing media labels Chinese Canadians voting against the Conservatives a plot by Beijing, basically all the media have reacted to the Michael Kovrig/Michael Spavor for Meng Wanzhou prisoner exchange in a jingoist way. In the Journal de Montréal Richard Martineau wrote, “The Chinese regime is a bandit regime” while CBC declared “After ‘hostage diplomacy,’ Canada needs to hold China to account on other issues.”
Of course, Team Canada’s media refuses to place the prisoner exchange into a real-world context. Canada should never have instigated the hostage diplomacy by detaining Meng for extradition to the US. The case against Meng was based on Washington granting itself the right to prosecute an alleged crime committed between a Chinese-based company, Huawei, and HSBC, a non-US based bank. By detaining Meng, Canada legitimated Washington’s bid to extend its legal authority over other sovereign jurisdictions and sanctions against Iran.
Between the time the US judicial system sought Meng’s detention and the point at which the Trump administration requested Ottawa detain her, Meng had travelled to six countries with US extradition treaties. Only Canada was willing to arrest Meng. Shortly after her arrest Trump said he viewed Meng as a bargaining chip in his trade war with China. After that point it was simply criminal to hold Meng. It was no longer plausible to argue the arrest wasn’t part of the US’ bid to weaken multinational tech giant Huawei, the “Crown Jewel of China Inc.”
The media frenzy is bolstered by the US Empire recently doubling down on its ‘target China’ campaign with the AUSUK security partnership. The Australia, US and UK military and intelligence agreement effectively commits Australia to supporting US belligerence towards China for years to come. Under the deal Australia will receive nuclear-powered submarines, which may violate its commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and South Pacific Nuclear-Free Zone Treaty.
AUSUK increases tensions between nuclear-armed states. The accord also undercuts the international cooperation required to mitigate the pandemic and climate crisis.
Is it really in Canada’s self-interest to unquestioningly side with a decaying US empire, whose government is controlled by a rich and powerful oligarchy?
Hopefully, the recent hostage exchange and Chinese Canadians rejecting the Conservatives aggressive policies will bolster those within the Canadian government who prefer engagement over conflict with China. Hopefully, thoughtful citizens see through the pro-US, militaristic, right-wing anti-China propaganda and come to understand this country’s self-interest lies with a peace-promoting, independent, internationalist foreign policy.