Han Dong Han Dong. Photo: Finnfrancislong / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Accusations against Canadian politicians of being Chinese agents are cynical moves serving an imperialist agenda, and must be resisted, argues John Clarke

Several weeks ago, the Canadian media was churning out story after story, many of them quite dubious, about the supposed threat of Chinese spy balloons over North America. We were informed that this development made increased military spending an urgent necessity, with former Tory defence minister, Peter MacKay, pressed into service to deliver dire warnings about the floating menace in our skies.

The spy balloons seem to have passed over at this point and the emphasis has shifted to chilling accounts of Chinese interference in Canadian elections. Global News has been leading the charge on this issue and it has focused much of its efforts on trying to prove that Liberal MP, Han Dong, is ‘part of a Chinese foreign interference network’. On the strength of a motion put by the social-democratic New Democratic Party (NDP), a majority vote for a public inquiry into electoral interference has now been passed in the House of Commons.

Dong has now been forced to withdraw from the Liberal caucus (parliamentary party) while these deliberations proceed. An elected member of the Ontario Legislature, Vincent Ke, has also been targeted by Global, and he has left the caucus of the governing Tory Party in order to ‘dedicate my time to clearing my name and representing my constituents’.

Intelligence sources

Davide Mastracci, managing editor of the left-wing publication Passage, has evaluated the series of articles by Sam Cooper in which Global’s allegations of electoral interference have been put forward. The first thing to understand is that they are based on anonymous allegations from operatives working for the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS).

Mastracci stresses Global’s almost complete reliance on the unproven assertions coming from CSIS and points out that no effort has been made ‘to confirm many of the allegations these sources make’. Cooper claims that China funded a ‘clandestine network of at least 11 federal candidates running in the 2019 election’ and that Dong is a ‘witting affiliate in China’s election interference networks.’ However, ‘Global explicitly states that they haven’t confirmed the allegations.’

At the same time as these claims are being trumpeted with such confidence, the Globe and Mail newspaper has written an article, also relying on CSIS sources, suggesting that CSIS director, David Vigneault, specifically informed Justin Trudeau that ‘there was no evidence any “covert funding” was given by China to these candidates nor that any of the candidates were “compromised” by China.’ It is also pointed out that Vigneault appeared before a parliamentary committee and stated quite clearly that: “We have not seen money going to 11 candidates, period.”

Very obviously, the Global articles are written primarily with a view to the effect they can have, and there is very little concern for the veracity of the claims that are being advanced. By their very nature, unfounded allegations by anonymous intelligence sources are impossible to verify. For this very reason, they are a tried and tested disinformation technique that should be taken with a very large grain of salt. Yet, Global has had no reservations about offering legitimacy to this highly dubious source of information.

The role of the NDP in maximising the impact of the interference claims should also be stressed. As I mentioned, the parliamentary motion to launch an inquiry was put forward in parliament by the NDP, and its leadership had raised this as a demand for several weeks. A statement issued by the party in February expressed concern about ‘the serious allegations that individual candidates may have been impacted by foreign interference’, and suggested ‘that confidence in our democracy is put at risk.’

It might have been thought that the influence of major companies, billionaire-owned media and well-funded right-wing think tanks on Canadian elections would have been of more importance for a party that claimed to represent the interests of working-class people but, sadly, the conduct of the NDP throughout this whole episode is depressingly predictable.

The readiness to play up these allegations is all the more galling because of the dangerous implications that they raise. Since the onset of Covid, there has been a significant increase in the level of anti-Asian racism in Canada. Much of it has flowed from bigoted notions that people assumed to be Chinese were carriers of the virus. The climate of fear that is now being orchestrated around electoral interference threatens to take this racism to new levels, such as we saw with the horrible rise in hatred and violence against Muslim people that came with the ‘war on terror’.

Global rivalry with China, in which Canada functions as one of the junior partners of the US, is intensifying rapidly, and the election interference issue is very much a product of this. We now have a situation where, on the flimsiest of evidence, elected political representatives of Chinese family background are being accused of functioning as a fifth column for Beijing. They often represent urban areas with large Chinese populations and, very legitimately, deal frequently with Chinese consular officials. Yet, all of this is being cynically presented as evidence of sinister conduct. It is an ugly and highly dangerous development.

Threat of war

Last December, having followed the US example by sailing a Canadian warship through the Taiwan Strait, Canada’s foreign minister, Mélanie Joly, used a Nato gathering to boast that further such provocative acts were going to take place. She also announced that Canada was investing $400 million in ‘military support for the Indo-Pacific’ and that it would deploy additional military attachés across the region.

Driven by competing economic interests, this military escalation is going to continue. We are, of course, already seeing the horrible results of such rivalry playing out in Ukraine, but China is the greater foe and the contest with it threatens to produce even more catastrophic conflicts. The present frenzy around alleged Chinese electoral interference may very well be the work of a Canadian intelligence operation. In any event, it is being used to justify intensified aggression and an arms build up by generating a sense of threat from without and by creating an enemy within.

Though it is important to stress just how weak and unsubstantiated the allegations of Chinese interference are, it isn’t actually the main political question. The point is that the effort to create a kind of preliminary war fever around this issue is linked to a global rivalry in which working-class people have no interest. The hypocrisy and cynicism of those hurling the allegations are mind boggling.

If we want to talk about interference in the affairs of other countries, then those who govern Canada have much to answer for. People in Afghanistan who suffered at the hands of Canadian troops during the invasion of their country would count themselves fortunate if Canadian interference there had been limited to a few clumsy attempts to influence electoral candidates. Victims of Canadian involvement in coups and the imposition of brutal regimes in Haiti, Honduras and Peru would be likely to draw similar conclusions.

The ugly and dangerous mood of panic around the allegation of Chinese interference in Canada’s elections is a warning of worse to come, as the rival powers compete over market shares and profits. With this rivalry comes the diversion of resources needed for housing, hospitals and schools into an arms race. It brings with it the vilest moods of xenophobia and racism and the growing threat of war. Far from embracing such directions, we need to build movements that resist them at every turn.

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John Clarke

John Clarke became an organiser with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty when it was formed in 1990 and has been involved in mobilising poor communities under attack ever since.