Global Politics Explainer

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Global Politics Explainer
Canada investigates Chinese interference in 2019 and 2020 elections

  Femy Francis

On 02 April, a Chinese Canadian politician Han Dong testified at a public hearing in the Ottawa Parliament against the Chinese interference in positioning his win in the 2019 elections. The ongoing federal investigation believes that a party of Chinese students transported in a bus were brought in to vote for Dong. Canadian intelligence agency believes that this happened in cohorts with the Chinese consulate in Canada. Han Dong at the hearing agreed that he did seek Chinese student's support but had no idea who charted the bus. The intelligence agency also found that there was a proxy agent in the consulate who aided the Chinese students with false documents to help them vote. The report also stated that the consulate threatened the students and coerced them to back Dong’s candidature. When Dong questioned, he said: “I’ve never seen any evidence of it.” but added, “It’s possible.’’

Additionally, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) also accused India and Pakistan of interfering in Canadian elections. Where the CSIS reported that Pakistan’s interference was limited to curb India’s growing influence, while for India it found that their interference was targeted towards supporting pro-India candidates and to curb the Khalistani movement and activism in Canada. The CSIS also believes that India may have infringed on the democratic process by providing monetary support for their preferred candidate.

Chinese Interference in election: What is background?
In 2022, Global News reported on the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) warning Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of the alleged Chinese Communist Party (CCP) involvement in sending money to China-affiliated candidates. The CSIS stated that: “The Chinese Communist Party … is using all elements of state power to carry out activities that are a direct threat to our national security and sovereignty.” The main party to this was China’s Toronto consulate, which was accused of transferring funds of USD 250,000 to at least eleven election candidates. The intelligence service and media houses have hinted at the Chinese interference in the elections, and it was only now the government was officially engaged in the matter.
“To get the right people at the right place”: How does China interfere?
First, Targeted support and attack, the interference distinguishes between the critics and supporters of China. Based on which they target or support the candidate to further their agenda. The New York Times looked into candidates and officials who were systematically targeted by the Chinese government. A parliamentarian and a staunch critic of Chinese human rights violations, Kenny Chiu stated that there was a sudden shift in his support base where many in China stopped taking calls, volunteer groups were ignoring him and a general collapse was seen in his campaign. Diplomats like Micheal Chong and lawmakers like Jenny Kwan were targeted for being critical of the treatment of Uyghur Muslims and Chinese policies in Hong Kong. Where the former was dismissed from his position and the latter saw the once close and friendly Chinese-Canadian community distanced themselves from Kwan.

Second, the United Front Work Department (UFWD) the intermediary, it is a department under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that gathers information and keeps in touch with influential Chinese individuals and organizations, especially outside China. The Canadian intelligence agency believes that UFWD orchestrated and mobilized individuals to push CCP’s agenda. These included politicians, businessmen, students, and media. The report stated that several candidates before the 2019 election met with Canada-based UFWD. The brief by the agency claims that while it is not an espionage agency it does operate through Chinese consulates.

Third, Authoritative government's diaspora vulnerable, in Canada, any non-citizens over the age of 14 can register and vote, as long as they can prove they are part of the same district. This also included foreign students who come to study in Canada for even a year, they can register and vote as well. The lawyers at the hearing stated that authoritarian governments can coerce foreign students and diaspora into submission and make them vote for certain candidates. These groups are vulnerable to Chinese government influence. The lack of background checks and the delayed response to repeated calls made by the intelligence agency and civic groups make the situation dire.

Chinese interference in election: What others have to say?
Former CSIS officer Dan Stanton said: “The sophistication of the threat: it is not the guy with the fedora and black coat, like the old days with the KGB. The whole point of influence networks is that anyone can be used by a foreign state as a co-opt, agent, or source.” That is why the current form of interference is much harder to track, control, and hold accountable. China has been in the limelight for the past one month when multiple countries accused Beijing of interfering in their elections and electoral process.

On 25 March, the UK government accused the Chinese hacking group affiliated with the CCP, of attacking the parliament by breaching into the data of 40 million voters and targeted staunch China critics. Both New Zealand and the US accused China of advanced cyber-attacks on their government institution.

On 05 April, the US-based tech firm Microsoft warned that China will attempt to disrupt elections in the US, India, and South Korea. The report stated: “As populations in India, South Korea, and the United States head to the polls, we are likely to see Chinese cyber and influence actors, and to some extent, North Korean cyber actors, work toward targeting these elections.” At the bare minimum, they would at least try to create commotion by dumping AI-generated content on social media. China has been accused of using meme-based tactics to spread disinformation on candidates critical of China, this was largely observed in the Taiwan elections. This report comes after Microsoft was reprimanded by the US review board for errors in protecting the data of US officials, ultimately leading Chinese cyber operators access to them.

Norimitsu Onishi, “Canadian Lawmaker Testifies Chinese Students Were Bused In to Elect Him,” The New York Times, 02 April 2024
Norimitsu Onishi, “Canadian Politicians Were Targeted by China in 2021, Report Says,” The New York Times, 03 April 2024
Dan Milmo, “China will use AI to disrupt elections in the US, South Korea and India, Microsoft warns,” The Guardian, 05 April 2024
Canadian intelligence warned PM Trudeau that China covertly funded 2019 election candidates: Sources,” Global News, 07 November 2022
David Akin, “CSIS intel suggests China attempted to funnel $250K, possibly for election interference,” Global News, 04 April 2024
Canadian Politicians Who Criticize China Become Its Targets,” The New York Times, 15 July 2023
Philip Ling and Raffy Boudjikanian ,“India, Pakistan attempted to interfere in Canada's elections: CSIS,” CBC, 05 April 2024
Marie Woolf and Ian Bailey “China paid approximately $250,000 to ‘threat actors’ working in Canada, inquiry told,” The Globe and News, 05 April 2024

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