The 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre should remind Canadians about the true nature of the People’s Republic, writes Amy Lai.

“Those students got squashed by the tanks!”

Mom woke me up gently on that early morning. In the following weeks, the Hong Kong media was flooded with images of broken bodies of young demonstrators in the blood-smeared streets near Tiananmen Square. The June 4 massacre sparked a new wave of emigration from Hong Kong.

The Chinese government has neither admitted to its wrongdoing, nor apologized to the victims in the June 4 massacre. Indeed, the tragic incident has remained one of its taboo subjects, and related words have continued to be censored on the Internet especially around its anniversary. Hongkongers’ fears sparked by what happened in Beijing were completely warranted. Since its handover, the Chinese government has failed to honour its agreement for Hong Kong to retain its autonomy as a special administrative region.

In recent months, the pro-China Hong Kong government has proposed to amend Hong Kong’s extradition law; once passed into law, anyone suspected of violating Chinese laws even in Hong Kong could be extradited to and be tried in China. This move has garnered local outrage and international media coverage.

Canadians who believe what is happening in Hong Kong only matters to Canadians who work there or who may be affected by the withdrawal of Canadian investments are deeply mistaken. Signs abound of China’s attempts to infiltrate the Canadian government and media. Wealthy businessmen with strong ties to the Chinese government are quick to make political donations. Meanwhile, many Chinese-language media in Canada have fallen under the sway of China.

Canadian academia has not been immune to these toxic influences. When Tibetan-Canadian Chemi Lhamo was elected student president at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus, some Chinese students launched an online campaign calling on her to step down that amassed almost 10,000 signatures from their fellows – an incident strongly suspected by a former senior CSIS official to be an attempt by China to mute dissidence abroad.

Chinese communities in Canada are culturally and politically diverse. Many immigrants from China are hardworking, honest, and honourable people. Yet there are others who are brainwashed and/or wilfully ignorant, who profess blind faith in the Chinese regime’s narratives. Some are outright aggressive whenever Canadians criticize China.

Several Canadian universities acted wisely in closing Confucian Institutes, Chinese state agencies that undermine academic freedom and quash dissent under the guise of promoting language and culture. Some universities more wisely refused to let these indoctrination machines set up in the first place.

Yet meaningful dialogues on China affairs can still be thwarted by excessive political correctness. According to anecdotal evidence, criticisms of the Chinese government have been discouraged at universities for fear that they might offend Chinese students. Certain Canadian professors who believe that feelings matter more than facts tend not to question Chinese students who appear to spread misinformation.

Amid these worrying signs, what should Canada do? That Justin Trudeau once expressed admiration for China’s “basic dictatorship” is no doubt unthinkable and unbecoming of a democratic leader. Instead, the nation needs to seek new trading partners and strengthen relationships with existing ones other than China. Internally, Canada needs to fight toxic influences on multiple fronts to safeguard its integrity and sovereignty.

If the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre has any other significance for Canada, it should remind its ruling elites to beware of illiberal tendencies in its own governance and of falling into the trap of authoritarianism.

Amy Lai is a lawyer and author of The Right to Parody and an upcoming book on free speech and higher education. This op-ed is based on a longer article for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. 

Image credit: Baron Reznik/ Flickr

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