Category Archives: Asia

Ottawa owes apology for Agent Orange in Vietnam

A French legal battle offers an opportunity to revisit Canada’s role in chemical weapons use and whether Ottawa owes something to its Vietnamese victims.

On the weekend activists gathered in Paris to support a court case launched by a woman exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam. The group Collectif Vietnam Dioxine is supporting French-Vietnamese woman, Tran To Nga, who is suing 14 companies that sold the powerful defoliant dioxin to the US military.

As a member of the Vietnamese Communists (Viet Cong) Nga breathed Agent Orange in 1966. She told the Associated Press “because of that, I lost one child due to heart defects. I have two other daughters who were born with malformations. And my grandchildren, too.” Spread between generations through breast milk, food and the water supply, Agent Orange victims’ children and grandchildren are often born with serious disabilities.

The toll the cancerous chemical had on Vietnam is staggering. Some three million Vietnamese were exposed to a defoliant that can cause immune deficiencies and damage one’s nervous system. Between 1962 and 1971 US forces sprayed 11 million litres of Agent Orange in southern Vietnam.

One aim was to deprive the guerrillas of cover by defoliating forests and rural land. Another goal of these defoliation efforts was to drive peasants from the countryside to the US-dominated cities, which would deprive the national resistance forces of their food supply and rural support.

During its war in Southeast Asia the US tested Agent Orange at CFB Gagetown. A 1968 US Army memorandum titled “defoliation tests in 1966 at base Gagetown, New Brunswick, Canada” explained: “The department of the army, Fort Detrick, Maryland, has been charged with finding effective chemical agents that will cause rapid defoliation of woody and Herbaceous vegetation. To further develop these objectives, large areas similar in density to those of interest in South East Asia were needed. In March 1965, the Canadian ministry of defense offered Crops Division large areas of densely forested land for experimental tests of defoliant chemicals. This land, located at Canadian forces base Gagetown, Oromocto, New Brunswick, was suitable in size and density and was free from hazards and adjacent cropland. The test site selected contained a mixture of conifers and deciduous broad leaf species in a dense undisturbed forest cover that would provide similar vegetation densities to those of temperate and tropical areas such as South East Asia.”

From the late 1950s until the 1980s Agent Orange was tested on animals at CFB Gagetown. During this period the Department of National Defence sprayed millions of litres of chemical agents at Gagetown. In 2018 CBC interviewed a former military officer who said in the late spring of 1985 he was ordered to escort a flatbed truck along an empty road to a freshly dug pit at CFB Gagetown. Over 40 full or semi-full barrels — some dented or in various states of decay — were dumped in the spongy soil. Most of them were wrapped with an orange stripe with the words “Agent Orange”.

Canadian scientists also helped develop Agent Orange and other defoliants used to deny food to areas supporting anti-colonial insurgencies in Asia. Labs at McGill University overseen by the chemical and biological weapons director at the Defence Research Board, Otto Maass, researched the herbicides sprayed by the US in Vietnam and British in Malaya.

Some US veterans and others who fought in Vietnam with the US have been compensated for the impact Agent Orange had on them. In 2007 Canadian veterans groups helped win $20,000 in compensation for individuals harmed by Agent Orange and other toxic defoliants tested at CFB Gagetown.

But there has never been compensation for the primary victims of Agent Orange, the people of Vietnam. Hopefully the Tran To Nga case will offer some justice.

When will the Canadian government acknowledge and apologize for its role in this crime against humanity? Don’t the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange deserve at least that?

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Sinophobia sweeps Canadian politics

Conservative MP Raquel Dancho denouncing NDP and Green MPs Niki Ashton and Paul Manly

Paranoia, disregard for evidence and over-the-top rhetoric to encourage hate. And I’m not talking about Donald Trump’s Republicans.

Progressive Canadian should counter a wave of McCarthyite Sinophobia sweeping this country’s politics.

The over-the-top reaction to a recent “Zoom to Free Meng Wanzhou” highlights the issue. The event was labelled “Chinese Communist Party propaganda” in the House of Commons and criticized by numerous media. When interviewing Paul Manly about his participation in the event journalist Evan Solomon repeatedly accused the Green MP of being “used by Chinese authorities” and for “Chinese propaganda”.

What’s going on? As China became more prosperous, the US military began a “pivot” towards Asia a decade ago. More recently, some important US capitalists have become increasingly unhappy with the terms imposed by the Chinese government on their operations there. Simultaneously, labour costs in China have risen sharply in recent years, taking some of the shine off the country as a low-wage assembly hub.

Alongside these broader economic and geopolitical trends, Donald Trump has been railing against the “China disease” for months. This xenophobia is shaping Canadian politics as well. Most of the front-page of a February Vancouver Province read: “Second China Virus Case in BC” while in April Conservative leadership candidate, Derek Sloan, said Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam was working for China and advancing “Chinese Communist propaganda”. Polls show a sharp rise in insults, threats and assaults targeting Canadians of Chinese descent since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

China bashing is central to new Conservative leader Erin O’Toole’s political messaging. He harps on about standing up for “Canadian values” against the Communist Party of China. In April O’Toole called for a “new Cold War” with China and recently said there’s “no greater threat to Canada’s interests than the rise of China”. (Greater than the climate crisis, COVID-19 pandemic, species collapse, opioid crisis, nuclear holocaust, economic inequality?)

To counter the Chinese “threat” the Conservatives openly appeal to British empire settler solidarity. In criticizing the “Free Meng Wanzhou” event in the House of Commons Conservative Shadow Minister for Diversity, Inclusion and Youth Raquel Dancho said, “all Canadian MPs need to stand with our Five Eyes partners and other like-minded allies to push back on Beijing’s intimidation tactics.” For his part, O’Toole recently declared, “Canada should work very closely with our Five Eyes allies” on countering the world’s most populous nation.

Settler colonialism and empire unite the Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and US Five Eyes alliance that excludes wealthier non-white nations (Japan and South Korea) or those with more English speakers (India and Nigeria). It’s not a coincidence that the only four countries that originally voted against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007 are part of the Five Eyes.

There is a long history of stirring up Sinophobia in Canada as part of US/British conflict with that country. During the US-led Korean War in the early 1950s Canadian troops denigrated the “yellow horde” of North Korean and Chinese “chinks” they fought. At a time when a small number of Canadians helped the British suppress the boxer rebellion in 1900 newspapers labeled China the “sick man of Asia,” which threatened European social mores. In opposing voting rights for “Chinamen” in 1885, Prime Minister John A. MacDonald said he feared their enfranchisement would lead to officials who “represent Chinese eccentricities, Chinese immorality, Asiatic principles altogether opposite to our wishes.” He concluded, “the Chinese has no British instincts or British feelings or aspirations.”

Progressives should resist the current ‘Yellow peril’ rooted in geopolitical competition and racism. To do so we should be clear eyed about Chinese power, which is significant and often authoritarian though somewhat exaggerated. That country’s global influence has yet to reflect its share of the world’s population. In 2019 the country’s GDP per personwas $10, 000 – equal to Mexico – while US GDP was $60, 000. The US has over 800 military bases in 80 countries around the world while the UK has 145 military facilities in 42 countries. China has one international base in Djibouti. The US and UK have bases in numerous countries bordering China. (In June 2012 the Canadian Press reported, “Canada is seeking a deal with Singapore to establish a military staging post there as part of its effort to support the United States’ ‘pivot’ toward Asia to counter a rising China.”) How many bases does China have in Canada or Mexico?

Additionally, China rarely deploys troops internationally. The US, Canada and UK, on the other hand, have been involved in recent wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, etc.

As the oldest and most populous nation, a prosperous and united China unquestionably threatens the US Empire’s dominance. Decision-makers in Washington have been concerned about that since at least 1949, which is part of the reason they invaded Korea after Mao’s nationalist/communist victory.

The military and large sections of the ruling classes in those countries integrated into the US Empire want to prevent China from taking its rightful place in world affairs. They are pushing economic, political and military means to “contain” China.

But those of us who believe in equality for all people, who fight racism and xenophobia, must say no. Progressives need to resist the logic of empire and oppose the wave of Sinophobia sweeping Canadian politics.

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Double standard blatant on Israel and China ‘foreign influence’ in Canada

Foreign influence in Canada is bad if it comes from China, but not even worth mentioning if it comes from Israel. That seems to be the position of the Globe and Mail.

Canada’s ‘paper of record’ is so gripped with anti-Chinese fervor that it is blind to a blatant double standard. Contrasting the Globe and Mail’s reporting on Canadian groups close to China and Israel highlights the xenophobic nature of their coverage.

Alongside Washington’s bid to build international opposition to China, the Globe has sought to expose Chinese influence in Canada. The paper has recently criticized Chinese government funded Confucius Institutes, which sponsor Mandarin programs and other cultural endeavors. In an October 15 story titled “Beijing used influence over B.C. schools to push its agenda and keep tabs on Canadian politics, documents show” the Globe reported on a Vancouver area Confucius-Institute-promoted school program where children read a poem that included the line “I am proud! I am Chinese!”

In a follow-up column citing the poem reading titled “It’s time to kick the Confucius Institute out of Canada” Gary Mason complained, “we have no laws or protections to force organizations acting in the interest of foreign powers to be registered and accountable.”

In a column on Thursday titled “Canada’s laws about foreign agents haven’t caught up to the modern world” Campbell Clark also called for legislation to blunt Chinese influence in Canada. “The first [to do] is to establish much greater transparency about the people in Canada working on behalf of foreign interests. The second is a law that signals it is not acceptable to secretly do the bidding of a foreign government in Canada.”

On October 28 the Globe published a story headlined “Chinese-Canadian groups laud China’s fight against U.S., allies in Korean War”. The story quoted former Canadian diplomat and senior fellow at the right-wing Macdonald Laurier Institute, Charles Burton, saying “it is so wrong to get Canadians to identify with the interests of a foreign state. That goes against the principle of citizenship.”

(The Chinese-Canadian groups’ statement on the 1950-53 Korean War was historically accurate. As many as 4 million mostly Koreans and Chinese died in a war that was partly a response to the success of China’s communist/nationalist revolution. Before China entered the war US aircraft bombed that country and Beijing only sent forces into Korea after hundreds of thousands of hostile US-led troops approached its border.)

A follow up Globe commentary partly based on the Korean war story was titled “China’s Xi Jinping is mobilizing his propaganda machinery against the west”. It noted, “these groups are revealing themselves as being plugged in and susceptible to the Chinese propaganda media; they seem to identify with China rather than with Canada.”

Since August the Globe has published a series of other stories critical of Chinese influence, including “Ontario legislature criticized for plans to fly China’s flag on Wednesday”, “CSIS warns China’s Operation Fox Hunt is targeting Canada’s Chinese community”, “Trudeau says Beijing’s targeting of Canadian Chinese community has ‘intensified’”, “CSIS warns about China’s efforts to recruit Canadian scientists” and “Universities, school boards across Canada defend ties with China’s Confucius Institute”. Another story headlined “Canada failing to address rising complaints about foreign intimidation of rights activists, Amnesty International says”, claimed that “Chinese government officials and supporters of the Communist Party of China are increasingly resorting to ‘threats, bullying and harassment’ to intimidate and silence activists in Canada.”

As the Globe has campaigned against Chinese influence and those who “identify with the interests of a foreign state”, they’ve ignored far more flagrant examples of Israeli nationalists doing the same thing. The Globe failed to report on the Israel lobby’s recent “threats, bullying and harassment” of Foodbendors due to the Toronto restaurant’s support of the Palestinian cause. Last month an open letter signed by Noam Chomsky, Roger Waters, filmmaker Ken Loach, author Yann Martel, former MP Jim Manly, poet El Jones and more than 150 others was delivered to Justice Minister David Lametti calling on the federal government to apply charges under the Foreign Enlistment Act against those recruiting Canadians for the Israeli military. The Globe ignored the letter and associated legal complaint as well as a campaign that saw more than 1,400 individuals email every MP calling for an investigation into IDF recruitment. More broadly, the paper has ignored Israeli military recruitment in Canada.

As I recently detailed, a number of Toronto schools openly promote the Israeli military. Canada’s largest private high school, Toronto’s TanenbaumCHAT, organizes fundraisers for Israeli military initiatives and holds regular “IDF days.” Former and current Israeli soldiers also talk to the students about the IDF, which sometimes appears part of the Israeli consulate’s recruitment drives. Additionally, students sing the Israeli national anthem and fly the Israeli flag.

A school enticing young people to join another country’s military is a far clearer example of “acting in the interest of foreign powers” then reciting a nationalist Chinese poem or echoing Beijing’s perspective on the Korean War. But, if the above-mentioned comments directed at Chinese-Canadian organizations were leveled against groups promoting Israel there would be a flurry of accusations of ‘anti-Semitism’ just as there were when two Liberal MPs were accused of promoting the interests of a foreign country.

But, the ‘allied with another country’ discourse is a red herring. Rather than a nationalist lens, progressives everywhere should judge these matters based on whether a position is emancipatory or oppressive. A statement critical of the US-led Korean War is progressive. A poem recital noting “I am proud! I am Chinese!” is progressive when made in reference to overcoming a century of foreign domination, but not if it supports Han supremacy against ethnic minorities in China.

Defending China is somewhat complicated. While there’s lots to object to about the Chinese government, it has succeeded in mostly breaking from foreign domination over the past 70 years. But, the country’s GDP per person is still only $10,261– equal to Mexico – and its global influence has yet to reflect its share of the world’s population.

Promoting Israel — let alone recruiting for its military — is unquestionably oppressive. With a $43,641 per person GDP, nuclear arms and staunch support from the world’s hegemon, Israel has spent its entire history taking ever more of the indigenous population’s land. The Israeli military is currently imprisoning Gaza and occupying land in Syria and the West Bank in contravention of international law. Israel has bombed most Middle Eastern countries and in recent years has been bombing Syria on a near weekly basis.

Understanding what is truly going on in the realm of foreign affairs is complicated. But when double standards appear as blatant as the Globe and Mail’s coverage of groups close to China and Israel every thinking person must question what they are being told.

One must at least consider the possibility that rather than defending Canadian interests perhaps people attacking China are motivated by racism and Trumpian nationalist ‘keep America on top of the world’ sentiments.

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