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.