Glavin: The demise of the Special Committee on Canada-China relations is not a good idea

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It was one of the only windows that Parliament opened on the Trudeau government’s secret relations with the Xi Jinping regime in Beijing. It was one of the few perspectives available to Canadians to gain insight into the Chinese regime’s influence operations in Canada.

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Now it’s gone, at least for now, and while the Liberals’ aversion to scrutiny of its Chinese diplomacy is well known, it behooves the Conservative Party to shake off suspicions that its own internal calculations are the reason the House of Commons special committee The Canada-China Relations Committee no longer exists.

“The Conservatives are not soft on China,” Michael Chong, the Conservative shadow foreign minister, told me on Tuesday. “It’s not true. It’s just not true. I feel like shouting it from the rooftops. The Conservative Party’s stance on China remains unchanged, period.

And that’s true enough, as far as it goes, but it will be difficult for the Tories to argue that they are not suspicious of their party’s emphasis on the Xi regime’s malignant conduct in China, in the United States. Canada and abroad – no matter how well the party’s policy dovetails with the overwhelming Canadian public opinion.

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During the September federal election campaign, the Conservatives were battered by a disinformation campaign led by Beijing and its proxies in Canada that cost them votes in 13 ridings across Canada, an internal party review found. In three constituencies, the operation is likely to have been effective enough to tip the scales in favor of the Liberal candidates.

The Conservatives managed to establish the special committee over Liberal objections in December 2019, but Conservative leader Erin O’Toole will not ensure its restoration when Parliament resumes on January 31. Chong convincingly argues that the reason is largely a matter of logistics.

The technical capabilities of the pandemic “hybrid” Parliament are such that at this time, apart from the two dozen standing committees of the House of Commons, there are no resources to head a third special committee in addition. the new Special Committee on Afghanistan, a Conservative initiative; and the new Liberal Standing Committee on Science and Research. Chong said there is a good chance that the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations will be up and running again by June.

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Even so, it’s not a good look. David Mulroney, senior researcher at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto and former ambassador to China, described the disappearance of the special committee as a Chinese influence operations shot down by an influence operation Chinese.

The Atlantic Council’s forensic research lab and Canadian NGO Disinfo Watch conducted analyzes of the September election that dovetail with the Conservative Party’s internal assessment and confirm Canadian Security Intelligence Service warnings to the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last summer. The Atlantic Council researchers concluded: “China-related actors have played an active role in seeking to influence the September 20, 2021 parliamentary elections in Canada, showing signs of a coordinated campaign to influence the behavior of the Chinese diaspora voting in elections.

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This campaign focused on the Conservatives’ proposal for an Australian-style foreign agent registration law. In Chinese-language media and on various China-based social platforms, where CSIS claims Beijing’s influence operations have been “normalized,” the proposed law has been framed in consistently hysterical terms, to the effect that Chinese Canadians would be required to register. en masse as foreign agents just to maintain relationships with businesses or family members in the People’s Republic of China.

The Conservative proposal was the subject of a private member’s bill introduced by popular Metro Vancouver MP Kenny Chiu, whose campaign was constantly harassed by disinformation. Chiu ended up losing to his liberal opponent by 3,000 votes. Ironically, the Conservatives’ proposed law, which would simply require lobbyists and agents of foreign powers to register with Ottawa, has come under more convincing criticism for being too lenient.

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Tarun Krishnakumar, a researcher at the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative at the Center for International Policy in Washington, DC, describes the Conservatives’ bill as “extremely limited in terms of the range of influencing activities it aims to cover.” It does not take into account the various targets and channels of foreign influence campaigns and would only apply to “an extremely narrow slice of the overall spectrum of influence and interference identified by agencies, including the Canadian Service. of security intelligence ”.

Chong said conservatives have been beaten in polls in many constituencies where Chinese diaspora communities are concentrated not because of the actual policies of the conservatives, but because of how they have been distorted, distorted and labeled. wrongly racist and far-right. This is another irony, because the party’s carefully articulated views would work well for any party across the political spectrum that pays close attention to the Xi regime’s domestic and foreign belligerence and intimidation. The positions defended by the conservatives are also direct responses to specific calls from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Chinese human rights defenders, Hong Kong democrats, the Uyghur community in Canada, the Taiwanese diaspora, etc. .

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It didn’t help that among Tory dissidents calling for Erin O’Toole to be subjected to an early leadership review was Burt Chen, a now-impeached Conservative Party national council member, who protested against the made O’Toole too hard on China. And a self-proclaimed Sino-Canadian conservative organization, not affiliated with the party but aligned with Beijing, lambasted O’Toole for the “hatred” embedded in Conservative policies, lambasted Canada for “starting the war” that led to The arrests of Michel Kovrig and Michael Spavor, opposed the concerns of Canadians regarding human rights in China and spoke in favor of Beijing’s military overflights of the Taiwan air defense zone.

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So it’s a mess, Chong said. “It wasn’t all our fault, but we certainly didn’t help ourselves. The Tories’ “war room” did not have a single Mandarin or Cantonese speaker on staff. While CSIS has highlighted the alarming extent of pro-Beijing control over Chinese-language media and popular social media platforms in Canada, the Conservatives should have been ready with a rapid response strategy to counter all the propaganda. “Even if we had had one we might have been on our heels, but at least we would have had a chance to fight.”

Beijing’s well-documented strategy of “elite capture” in Canada and its operations of multidimensional influence are pressing issues of national security and sovereignty, Chong said – issues far too important to avoid even facing. if that means losing votes in some constituencies.

But for now, at least, there won’t be a special committee on Canada-China relations to shed some light on all of this.

Terry glavin is an author and journalist.

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