Thursday, July 19, 2007

Ex-Diplomat Says China Using Culture to Crush Unwanted Influence

Chinese dissident Chen Yonglin outlines how Beijing controls the diasporas and spies on the U.S. through Canada and Australia.

Embassy by Lee Berthiaume - June 13, 2007 - In the spring of 2001, about 40 Chinese-Canadian associations delivered to then-prime minister Jean Chr├ętien a petition opposing Falun Gong activities in Canada.

Around the same time, related organizations in Australia were delivering a similar complaint to the mayor of Sydney.

While neither leader took action against the religious group, a Chinese diplomat-turned-dissident says the petition campaign was actually the brainchild of the Chinese government and represents one of the most subtle means by which the Asian country's Communist government is trying to influence the world.

"That's considered a success in mobilizing the local community for China's interest," Chen Yonglin told Embassy in an interview last week during a Falun Gong-sponsored visit to Ottawa.

"The group lodged a petition, but the petition was actually drafted by the embassy. In Sydney, we did the same thing."

On May 26, 2005, Mr. Chen walked out of the Chinese consulate in Sydney, where he had been responsible for monitoring Chinese political dissidents, after 14 years in the Asian country's foreign service.

Since then, he has reported extensively on China's international activities, including its widespread network of spies around the world, its efforts to steal technological secrets and inventions, and its attempts to crackdown on dissidents living abroad.

Upon his defection, Mr. Chen revealed that about 1,000 Chinese spies were operating within Australia's borders, a number he believes is similar in Canada.

Last month, Canadian Security Intelligence Service director Jim Judd told a Senate committee that as many as 15 countries have spies operating within Canada, and that China "pretty much" ranked as the top country sending agents to Canada, with "close" to 50 per cent of all agents in the country.

Mr. Chen said the Chinese government aims to eliminate what it refers to as the "five poisonous groups," essentially any activity that promotes Falun Gong, the legitimacy of Taiwan, Tibet, Uighur, and democracy in China.

The Communist country employs subtle and sophisticated tactics in its war on what are essentially five challenges to single-party rule, Mr. Chen said.

For example, the Chinese style of writing is different on the mainland than in Taiwan or Hong Kong, and by promoting it in such places as the new Confucius Institutes, which are Chinese government-sponsored institutions that are being established around the world, it hopes to promote closer cultural ties to the mainland and the Communist Party's ideology.

"The main aim is to squeeze the space of Taiwan influence," he said. "They will have a closer link to mainland China instead of Hong Kong or Taiwan. This is a cultural campaign."

The Canadian Press reported late last month that CSIS considers the institutes, one of which recently opened in Vancouver, with more slated for Montreal, Moncton, N.B., and Waterloo, Ont., a form of "soft power" with the aim of generating goodwill in the West towards China.

Pro-Communist China satellite channels, newspapers and other communications strategies, predominantly aimed at the Chinese diaspora, are all part of the strategy, Mr. Chen said.

"It's focused on cultural change to convince people that the power in China is legitimate, it's helping people, serving the people, and there should be no objection and no democracy is necessary. One-party democracy is good."

When he first joined the Chinese foreign service in 1992, Mr. Chen was assigned to the Department of North American and Oceanic Affairs. At the time, Lu Shumin, now China's ambassador to Canada, was deputy director of the U.S. division. He was later promoted to director general of the department, and Mr. Chen accused him of following the party line and policies, including efforts to stop the five poisonous groups.

The Chinese Embassy did not return repeated phone calls.


Government Involved in Diasporas

The Chinese government considers Chinese communities abroad as its property and helps friendly diaspora members establish organizations that ostensibly represent the local Chinese community, but are essentially lobbyists for the Chinese government.

A few months ago, representatives from New Tang Dynasty Television accused the Chinese government, with supporting documents that had been taken from the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa when the wife of a diplomat defected, of trying to stop the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) from granting it a licence to operate in Canada.

Mr. Chen said one main group overseas all other local associations, and the head of that group is appointed by the embassy.

Anyone who establishes an association, which can often have only one member but may appear to have a much larger presence, can get preferential treatment in business dealings and other relations with China.

"The Chinese government shows how to organize and gives instructions," Mr. Chen said. "And if they set up this organization, they get special treatment."

Not only do the associations lobby the Canadian government, they also try to infiltrate dissident groups and tarnish their reputations, Mr. Chen said.

While many of China's efforts focus on working with and trying to influence the local community, and by extension federal, provincial and municipal governments, it also relies on diplomats and other official Chinese officials stationed in the country, Mr. Chen said.

"In the missions in some important cities, there are one to three staff members that are working for state security," he said. "The ambassador cannot command these people. They may reject the ambassador. They are there for a special task. They don't have to necessarily listen to the instructions of the ambassador."

Mr. Chen said China has a grand strategy, the main aim being to reduce American influence around the world. Because Australia and Canada are key allies to the U.S., it is targeted by default.

"China has tried hard to weaken the United States' influence over the world by trying to reducing the intimacy between Canada and the United States, and Australia and the United States," he said.

One such way of doing this is by stealing American political and security intelligence from Australia and Canada that is shared by the U.S., which serves also to strengthen China.

"Australia and Canada have an alliance with the United States and these countries share a lot of information," he said. "China cannot get that information directly from the United States, but they can get it here."

Government operatives will also try to steal technological secrets, and recruit government-supported researchers, especially those with any connection to the Chinese mainland.

"They stay here and occasionally travel to China and work for a certain period of time," he said. "Then back to his own laboratory here which is supported by the government."

Mr. Chen said the Canadian government must stick to its policy of human rights, democracy and freedom and remain vigilant of Chinese activity in the country, "especially its influence on the mainstream.

"They use some illegal ways to control, in some parts, the mainstream," he said. "Trade with China is okay, but stick with a human rights policy, and don't remain ignorant."

lee@embassymag.ca

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

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