Vancouver Sun

Bei­jing has been play­ing Canada for gen­er­a­tions

China's fo­cus is on con­trol, Jonathan Manthorpe writes.


Dec. 10 marks two years since China ar­bi­trar­ily im­pris­oned Cana­di­ans Michael Kovrig and Michael Spa­vor. In this 10-day se­ries, ex­perts ex­am­ine the im­pli­ca­tions for lib­eral democ­ra­cies.

For 75 years, Cana­di­ans have been the cham­pion guinea pigs as the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party (CCP) has se­lected and tested in­stru­ments of in­flu­ence and co­er­cion for its cam­paigns of in­ter­na­tional po­lit­i­cal war­fare.

Ex­pe­ri­ence with its Cana­dian lab­o­ra­tory tests have taught the CCP that a small kit of sim­ple tools works best for Bei­jing's ob­jec­tive to min­i­mize op­po­si­tion and max­i­mize sup­port among for­eign cap­i­tals and their in­flu­en­tial po­lit­i­cal, busi­ness and aca­demic classes.

The Cana­dian ex­per­i­ments be­gan among Cana­dian United Church mis­sion­ar­ies op­er­at­ing in China's south­west­ern Sichuan prov­ince in the 1940s.

This was where Mao Ze­dong's right-hand man and China's fu­ture pre­mier, Zhou En­lai, met some of the Cana­dian mis­sion­ar­ies, and more par­tic­u­larly their adult chil­dren. These so-called “Mish Kids” had been born in China, spoke Chi­nese.

Zhou found the mis­sion­ar­ies and their adult chil­dren tended to be left wing in their pol­i­tics, in con­trast to Amer­i­cans. More­over, sev­eral of them read­ily ac­cepted the CCP's in­sis­tence that it was merely a pro­po­nent of agrar­ian land re­form, and not a party bent on revo­lu­tion­ary de­struc­tion of the ex­ist­ing so­cial struc­ture.

Sev­eral of these “Mish Kids” be­came cen­tral fig­ures in the con­struc­tion of Canada's for­eign min­istry af­ter the Sec­ond World War. They planted in the for­eign pol­icy cul­ture a con­vic­tion that the CCP looks on Canada with spe­cial favour. This self-delu­sion still ex­ists.

Zhou also per­ceived that be­hind Cana­dian bon­homie lurked deep-seated jeal­ousy or even down­right ha­tred of the United States.

The CCP found that Cana­di­ans would al­ways take the bait to one-up the United States if the temp­ta­tion was of­fered. That was a sig­nif­i­cant drive be­hind the cam­paign 50 years ago for Canada to seal diplo­matic re­la­tions with Bei­jing be­fore Wash­ing­ton did.

But the CCP's all-pur­pose tool for con­struct­ing net­works of agents of in­flu­ence in Canada and else­where is money.

The CCP's prin­ci­pal chan­nel for in­flu­ence in Canada has been the Canada-China Busi­ness Coun­cil. This was founded in 1978 at the in­sti­ga­tion of the Mon­treal-based Power Corp., headed by Paul Des­marais. He li­aised with the CCP's most ef­fec­tive pro­pa­gan­dist in the worlds of Cana­dian busi­ness, pol­i­tics and academia, Paul Lin of the depart­ment of Asian stud­ies at McGill Univer­sity. For much of the last 50 years, the po­lit­i­cal clout of the coun­cil has made it the true over­seer of Cana­dian pol­icy to­ward China.

Power Corp.'s re­cently re­tired pres­i­dent, An­dre Des­marais, is the son-in-law of Jean Chré­tien. Other for­mer prime min­is­ters who have also worked for Power Corp. in­clude Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mul­roney and Paul Martin Jr.

Fi­nan­cial greas­ing of the re­la­tion­ship can be pref­er­en­tial ac­cess to the Chi­nese mar­ket for for­eign busi­ness­peo­ple, well-paid seats on the boards of state-owned or -con­trolled Chi­nese com­pa­nies, and in­flated con­sul­tancy fees.

From the time it took power in 1949, an es­sen­tial ob­jec­tive of the CCP has been to use, con­trol and where nec­es­sary in­tim­i­date the es­ti­mated 50 mil­lion peo­ple in the eth­nic Chi­nese di­as­pora, in­clud­ing 1.5 mil­lion in Canada.

Fi­nan­cial in­duce­ments or ap­peals to racial pa­tri­o­tism are used first. But these pres­sures of­ten fail when ap­plied to peo­ple ad­vo­cat­ing po­lit­i­cal re­form in China, Hong Kong or Bei­jing's colo­nial pos­ses­sions Ti­bet and Xin­jiang. Then the CCP's agents use threats. These of­ten in­clude the de­ten­tion of fam­ily mem­bers in China or the loss of work in Canada, usu­ally when em­ploy­ers have al­ready been co-opted.

All these tools have been and con­tinue to be used on Cana­di­ans by the CCP, and ex­plain to a sig­nif­i­cant de­gree why the cri­sis in Sino-Cana­dian re­la­tions sparked by the Huawei af­fair has been so calami­tous.

The false be­lief in a charmed re­la­tion­ship with China em­bed­ded in the Cana­dian psy­che by the CCP was a trap. The Huawei af­fair has shown that in re­al­ity the CCP cares more about the fate of one Red Princess than it does about the whole re­la­tion­ship with Canada.

Jonathan Manthorpe is the au­thor of the 2019 book Claws of the Panda: Bei­jing's Cam­paign of In­flu­ence and In­tim­i­da­tion in Canada. His lat­est book, Restor­ing Democ­racy in an Age of Pop­ulists and Pesti­lence, was pub­lished in July.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada