Reject the Reactionary Hysteria over China’s Election Interference

Reject the Reactionary Hysteria over China’s Election Interference

5 min. read | By Peter Hogarth

While workers are in the midst of a cost of living crisis the political and media establishment in Canada have been busy stoking hysteria about Chinese interference in our elections. With little to no actual evidence, the panic emanating from Ottawa serves to whip up reactionary nationalism, while deflecting from the unaccountable and undemocratic corporate influence which is driving the cost of living crisis and undermining our public institutions.

Reject the Reactionary Hysteria
Reject the Reactionary Hysteria | © Kiri Vadivelu

With his government facing heat over claims of Chinese government interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections, Justin Trudeau announced several investigations and the appointment of a special rapporteur. The rapporteur will have a mandate to “make recommendations on combating interference and strengthening our democracy.”

Reactionary Nationalism

The opposition parties have been pressing the Liberal government on the issue. Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre has been pushing the issue relentlessly, insisting that a public inquiry is the only option. The NDP has foolishly echoed the call for a public inquiry, voted for one in committee and now is facing criticism from the Conservatives for not being tough enough on Trudeau and his government.

The renewed fears of election meddling by China have brought a few MPs into sharp focus and stoked questions of “loyalty” and “treason” in the House of Commons. This new round of zeal for protecting Canadian democracy was kicked off by a report from Global News based on two leaked briefing notes obtained through intelligence sources indicating that the Trudeau government was warned that the Chinese government was funnelling money to Canadian election candidates in 2019 and 2022. Another report from The Globe and Mail said that China used two wealthy businessmen to make a large donation to the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation in 2016.

The intelligence sources were granted anonymity by Global, because they risk prosecution under the Security of Information Act. The information in the documents was derived from 100 Canadian Security Intelligence Service reports and produced by the Intelligence Assessment Secretariat (a division of the Privy Council Office) and summarizes findings from an “ongling, high-level probe in the Greater Toronto Area launched in 2019.”

Global also reported on a similar warning that came from a bipartisan panel of parliamentarians called Canada’s National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) that was established by Trudeau in 2017. These reports echoed previous intelligence reported by Global in November 2022 on a “Special Report” from January of that year which revealed allegations of a network arranged by the Chinese consulate to disperse thousands of dollars in funds to preferred candidates. The sources said it included Liberals and Conservatives, both witting and unwitting, and at least one Ontario MPP.

Since the report came out, Ontario MPP Vincent Ke has resigned from the Conservative Caucus, but denies he was a financial intermediary in election interference by China. He represents the riding of Don Valley North, the same riding as Liberal MP Han Dong whom Global, citing unnamed sources, has also alleged was a part of the scheme. Han Dong has also denied that allegation.

Heightened International Tensions

The context for all this news is an increasing scare-mongering amongst Western media and governments over China. The Chinese spy balloons that turned out not to be spy balloons being some of the most recent and sensational examples. Of course meddling in foreign elections is nothing new, in fact the United States government is notorious for intervening in the politics of dozens of countries over the years, from funding radio stations to targeted assassinations. Canada, itself has a dubious record on this front, brazenly interfering in elections and the democratic process in countries like Haiti and Honduras.

The allegations of interference levelled at China, a world superpower, are based on the alleged busing in of students and seniors to vote for Han Dong in a Liberal nomination election. These are the only specific allegations from the anonymous Canadian security insiders. They describe what amounts to a common practice for nomination elections as being directed by Beijing to secure the nomination of a former MPP to run in a Northeast Toronto suburb.

Where is the Evidence?

Nearly every media outlet has done their best to amplify these confusing and vague allegations into a national controversy. The National Post took the allegations of foreign interference to absurd levels stating:

“Evidence of China’s alleged influence in the 2021 federal election might be found as much in what didn’t happen as what did — namely, the significant number of previous Conservative voters who did not show up to cast a ballot in ridings in British Columbia and Ontario…Across multiple ridings, a similar pattern emerged: Conservative candidates saw significantly fewer supporters coming to the polls, however the Liberals did not see large gains, indicating not that large numbers of voters switched allegiances, but that for some reason, large numbers of voters did not vote at all.”

The idea that voters stayed home during the election because foreign interference, not because they are fed up and uninspired by political parties offering little in the way of change would be laughable, if it wasn’t so dangerous.

The reason that these vague and unsubstantiated allegations can catch so much coverage is because we have been collectively primed for increased hostility towards China for years. Since US President Barack Obama announced the country’s “pivot to Asia” in November 2011, the greatest imperial power has refocused its foreign and military strategy on China. China has the second largest economy in the world and continues to grow, its multi-trillion dollar belt-and-road initiative is expanding its economic reach across the world and President Xi Jinping has promised to make his country a world class military power.

The challenge the country presents to US global domination has placed it in the centre of US foreign policy. This rivalry means that coverage of China has increasingly framed it in a negative light. Because Canada is a junior partner in US imperialism, Canada’s foreign policy and media coverage have followed suit. For example, contrast the ways in which Western media outlets covered the massive explosion of protests in the summer of 2020 following the death of George Floyd versus the protests against lockdown restrictions in China in 2022.

It’s Big Business not China Undermining our Democracy

The inter-imperialist rivalry between the US and China means that there is likely interest in Canadian elections by the Chinese government; there is certainly decades of evidence of the US intervening in the politics of rival countries. However, the latest of meddling in the 2019 and 2021 Canadian elections are so vague and unfounded that to spend millions on a public inquiry would make no sense. Especially when there has been no public inquiry or accountability for the billions of dollars funnelled to private businesses in the form of the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy or the millions given away to Accenture Inc and McKinsey & Company.

The allegations of foreign interference in Canadian elections is based on little to no evidence and is only serving to stoke nationalism and militarism. If we want to have a discussion about the real unaccountable forces distorting our democracy we should start by looking at the hidden influence of large corporations who have used their power and wealth at all levels of government to erode our public services and enrich themselves.

Retrieved from Spring Magazine

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