We need to stop foreign governments like China’s from taking advantage of our open, free and democratic system, writes Duanjie Chen.

By Duanjie Chen, December 4, 2018

I recently joined a panel discussion at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute with Professor Clive Hamilton. MLI had brought us together to discuss Hamilton’s recent book, Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia. In my mind, this is the first book to provide a full-spectrum analysis on the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) mindset, strategy, tactics, and organizational structure for its infiltration and influence efforts abroad. No wonder the CCP desperately tried to kill its publication.

Exposing and overcoming the CCP’s silent invasion of our free world is essential for preserving our way of life – one that rests on three cornerstones: the protection of private property rights, freedom of speech, and the rule of law. To my observation, there are five basic points for understanding the CCP and how we can best resist the CCP’s infiltration on our soil.

First, under the CCP, China remains an authoritarian regime that should not be confused or mistakenly conflated with any democratic state, particularly the United States, regardless of who occupies the White House. People not convinced of this basic point may ask themselves two simple questions:

  • Are you afraid of openly criticizing Trump in front of the American people, from ordinary folks all the way to high-ranking officials?
  • When you travel in America, do you sense any government censorship in public or online?

The answers to both are an obvious “no.” Then ask these same questions but replace “America” with China” and “Trump” with “Xi Jinping.” The answers are clearly “yes.” As soon as you enter China, you immediately lose access to Google, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, Bloomberg, Reuters, and so on. These websites are blocked simply because their content rattles officials in China. This epitomizes the fundamental difference between the governments of China and the US. Freedom of speech and official censorship are the two most visible yardsticks for taking the measure of any authoritarian regime.

To my dismay, some prominent pundits in Canada boldly defend and promote China’s image. And when they cannot avoid criticizing the obvious, they absurdly equate China’s dark side with undesirable aspects of the US. For example, earlier this year, a distinguished fellow at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada (APFC) rationalized Xi Jinping’s removal of China’s presidential term limit, saying it was simply part of larger international trends concerning the concentration of authority in the hands of single rulers. Indeed, he lumped it in with the “current political red flags in China, the US, and Russia.”

Such intentional distortion of concepts and facts by Canadian pundits are further evidence of the success of China’s influence on our public discourse and its efforts to portray the CCP party state as a benign regime.

To be sure, this APFC fellow’s views are not unique among Western enablers of China. Many prominent American pundits do the same thing. What is unique is that the Canadian government seems to be more willing to listen to these pro-China voices than our own security and intelligence agencies, which remain wary of the challenge posed by China.

Second, China under the CCP should not be mistaken for a benign actor. It has no intention of following through on its words or abiding by signed contracts, even if it has not declared open warfare on international norms and the international order.

Consider the current trade war between China and the US. It’s unfortunate that this trade war is still viewed by many as arising primarily from Trump’s protectionist instincts, as opposed to what should rightly be seen as China’s persistent violation of World Trade Organization (WTO) rules. If we see China as a better trading partner than America, then it is only natural to diversify our trade towards China. But the Australian experience should be a wake-up call to those who persistently advocate a pro-China trade policy.

Another example of China’s challenge of global norms can be seen in the South China Sea dispute. In September 2015, Xi Jinping stated that “China does not intend to pursue militarization” in the South China Sea. Yet, in May 2018, China for the first-time landed bombers on a disputed territory in these waters. And on September 30, 2018, a Chinese destroyer came within 45 yards of a US naval vessel and compelled it to change course on its freedom of navigation operation near reefs and rocks that Beijing has tried to turn into artificial islands.

As these facts indicate, the CCP simply does not respect the international order and its norms. To regard the CCP as a trustworthy partner, we have to move beyond accepting its words at face value – and instead assess its intention by its deeds.

Third, unlike in our free democratic system, Xi Jinping faces no domestic constraint on spending the public funds to maintain his grip on power, both domestically and abroad. According to official statistics:

  • Government spending in 2017 on “public order and safety,” ranging from massive civil surveillance to online censorship, totalled US$239 billion or US$173 per capita, which is more than 80 percent of its public health spending (US$200 per capita), and more than half of its social safety net spending (US$341 per capita). Canada’s spending on public order and safety might be higher on a per capita basis, but it’s only a fifth of its spending on either public health or a social safety net.
  • Over 34 percent of the CCP government spending was distributed in various “economic affairs” that totalled over US$1.3 trillion for 2017. Indeed, a modest estimate of China’s multi-year Belt and Road Initiative is US$1 trillion, or over US$700 per capita.
  • In 2016, there were almost 300 million migrant workers from rural China who cannot legally settle in urban China and whose average monthly earning was little more than US$600. Given their financial responsibility for family back home, it is an underestimation that there are only 100 million Chinese living in extreme poverty.

These numbers illustrate how little the Chinese government cares about its own people’s well-being and how ruthless it is in protecting its party-state and pursuing its global dominance.

Fourth, many overseas Chinese communities that are controlled or monitored by the CCP should not be equated with the Chinese as a people. Criticizing the pro-CCP actions taken by these communities should not be misconstrued as racism but rather as protecting our way of life. Lodging accusations of “racism” to stir up anger among the Chinese diaspora is the CCP’s calculated way of shaking our resolve to defend our values.

We also need to bear in mind that the recent wave of Chinese immigrants consists of those who have the financial means to land on our shores and enjoy our fresh air, safe foods, superior education, more civilized society, and perhaps most importantly, the financial security that protects their substantial savings. These things are all unavailable in China. Otherwise, why would people from China leave their homeland and rebuild their lives in a cultural environment that is so alien and challenging?

Here, I emphasize a mentality that has been shaped by almost 70 years of CCP rule and indoctrination; this mentality has some distinctive features that escape most Westerners:

  • The CCP is the foremost authority over all Chinese born in China regardless of their current citizenship. Therefore, following the CCP’s direction, rather than abiding by the law, is a red line for self-discipline.
  • Territorial sovereignty trumps human rights. Therefore, topics involving Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, and even the South China Sea are off limit in public discourse.
  • The CCP’s historical doubletalk and its eclectic approach to free-market systems have instilled a mindset that does not value honesty and integrity but blind patriotism to China and worship of money.

With these grotesque views shaped by the CCP, some Chinese immigrants subconsciously place the CCP party-state above all, even after they are sworn in as Canadian citizens. Therefore, when they act at the CCP’s will while thriving in our lands, they may or may not be aware that their actions directly contradict the very values we Canadians cherish, such as the rule of law, human rights, and a sense of integrity. This is when our governments need to provide clear guidelines to safeguard Canadian values and national interests.

Fifth and finally, Chinese as a language is totally different from English; it is very difficult for any native Chinese speaker to learn English, and vice versa. Regardless of their ages and education level, it is understandable for many first-generation Chinese immigrants to confine themselves in Chinese communities, where CCP-controlled Chinese media are the most readily available and influential in shaping their national and international outlooks. Such Chinese communities, including Chinese student associations on our campuses, are hotbeds for the CCP to expand its overseas influence.

Chinese communities, however, like all other ethnic communities in Canada, are invaluable for our nation’s growth and development. We should not allow them to remain under, or succumb to, the control of the CCP and its stance against our national interests.

As such, we need to devote greater efforts to integrating Chinese immigrants into our social fabric while safeguarding and propagating our national values through all available venues, which include but are not limited to ESL classes, legal and civil aid services, national holiday celebrations, and job and volunteer training programs. Such programs need to be designed and implemented in both English and Chinese.

In conclusion, we must stop any foreign government from taking advantage of our open, free and democratic system for the purpose of overtaking it. Our government must take action to resist China’s silent invasion.

Duanjie Chen is a Munk Senior Fellow at  the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.