Federally Funded Canadian Group Used by China to Spread Propaganda About Uyghurs: Report

Two groups in Canada have consistently promoted Beijing’s talking points about the Xinjiang region in the face of mounting evidence of massive human rights abuses

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Two Canadian community organizations — one of which has received thousands of dollars in federal funding — are prime examples of how the Chinese government has sought to covertly form opinions worldwide about human rights abuses in Xinjiang province, a new report from Australian academics says.

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A profile of the Xinjiang Association of Canada and the Ontario-based Council of Newcomer Organizations – co-founded by a former Liberal MP – forms one of four case studies in the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s report Cultivating Friendly Forces.

The two groups and their leaders have consistently promoted Beijing’s discussion points about the region in light of growing evidence of massive human rights abuses against Xinjiang’s Muslim population, says the working paper by James Leibold, a professor at La Trobe University in Melbourne, and Lin Li .

The groups were supported by China’s diplomatic missions in Canada, while at least two of their directors were invited to attend events in China as privileged “overseas Chinese” leaders, the report says, which is based primarily on Chinese-language media reports and other open source material from the Internet.

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“The CCP (Chinese Communist Party) uses these bodies as channels to spread propaganda about the ‘harmony, prosperity and happiness’ of the people of Xinjiang, while deflecting and denying international criticism of its well-documented human rights abuses in the region,” the analysis costs.

Such groups “can spread mistrust and fear in the community, mislead politicians, journalists and the public, influence government policy, cloud our assessment of the situation in Xinjiang, and disguise the CCP’s interference abroad.”

The report calls for increased efforts by the media, academia and government to expose the Chinese government’s global interference, including through the use of effective foreign-influenced registers.

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The National Post contacted the leaders of the two groups and the Chinese embassy in Ottawa for comment on the report, but had received no response by the deadline.

The report came as no surprise to Mehmet Tohti, head of the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project.

The Chinese influence campaign against the Uyghur diaspora has several facets, including intimidation of community members and “hostage-taking” such as the detention of Canadian activist Huseyin Celil in 2006, as well as “spreading misinformation and false stories,” he said by email. -mail.

“We may see more vigorous moves from China by waking up its sleeper cells in Canada and around the world to promote its story of Uyghur genocide and forced labour,” Tohti added.

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Human rights groups, media and the United Nations have uncovered widespread repression of Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang, including forced labour, mass sterilization and re-education camps estimated to house more than a million people.

The Canadian parliament, the US and other countries have accused China of genocide, though Beijing denies the charges and insists it is simply bringing peace to a region ravaged by unrest and terrorism.

The report documents how China is attempting to refute the allegations, in part by using local community groups that claim to represent immigrants from Xinjiang or simply promote Beijing’s stance on the issue. It says the effort is led by the United Front Work Department, a party branch dedicated to increasing China’s influence abroad and which has expanded dramatically in recent years.

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The 12-year-old Xinjiang Association of Canada is a prime example of the links between such groups and China’s colonization efforts in the region, the report said.

It is mainly made up of Han Chinese – the country’s dominant group – and the launch was attended by the Consul General and other Chinese diplomats in Toronto. The group invites local politicians and consular officials to events honoring Uyghur and Han festivals, “then uses these public events to present a harmonious picture of Xinjiang and its diasporic population,” the working document says.

Founding President Zhu Jiang’s parents migrated to Xinjiang from China as part of efforts to change ethnic makeup, and he joined the People’s Liberation Army at the age of 15. The report includes a photo of Zhu in PLA uniform while a player for the Xinjiang Army Assignment.

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He immigrated to Canada in 2001 and was invited in 2019 by the United Front Work Department in Xinjiang and the Chinese Consulate in Toronto to attend the lavish celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic. A local news outlet quoted him as saying that the event’s military parade made him realize how much he “loved the motherland,” the National Post reported at the time.

Zhu has consistently defended China’s actions in the region, with state-run China News citing him in 2019 as criticizing the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of the US House of Representatives.

Zhu was also for a time head of the Council of Newcomer Organizations, an umbrella group that included his Xinjiang association. As also previously reported by the Post, the council issued a statement last year rejecting the House of Commons’ Xinjiang genocide motion, saying it was based on “baseless rumours.”

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“The council’s statement was subsequently reported by the Chinese state media to prove that members of the Chinese diaspora disagreed with the decision of the Canadian parliament,” the report said.

Last year, the council had received at least $160,000 in grants from several federal agencies, the most recent for an elder abuse program.

Zhu was succeeded as head of the newcomers council by Han Jialing, who has also publicly documented ties to Beijing. When Zhu attended the anniversary celebrations in 2019, Han was “class captain” of a “carefully selected” group of overseas Chinese leaders who were invited to a seminar in China on the country’s “great achievements” and the thoughts of President Xi Jinping.

Leibold acknowledged in an interview that China is not alone in trying to shape opinion abroad. But his campaign of influence differs in scope from others — more diplomats are registered in Canada than in any country other than the US and more missions worldwide than anyone else — as well as the co-opting of community groups and the fact that his efforts are largely covert, he said.

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“What sets it apart … is its tendency to operate in the shadows: the clandestine work that goes on behind the scenes, out of the public eye,” said the politics professor. “It’s…really very different from what we see in free and democratic societies.”

Australian and New Zealand scholars such as Leibold have largely dominated academic efforts to investigate Beijing’s foreign influence efforts. But the work is getting harder as much of the information that was once freely available online is disappearing from the Internet, he said. The extensive website of the Council of Newcomers’ Organizations has indeed disappeared.

And the research comes at a personal cost, Leibold said.

He said he has been denied a visa to visit China – the main subject of his investigation – while Li is “very concerned” about possible retaliation against her friends and relatives in China.

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