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Canada faces ‘peril’ without action on alleged Chinese interference, experts warn

Click to play video: 'How will Trudeau handle China at G20 after reports of alleged election interference'
How will Trudeau handle China at G20 after reports of alleged election interference
WATCH: How will Trudeau handle China at G20 after reports of alleged election interference – Nov 13, 2022

The “peril” Canada faces if it chooses not to act on allegations of Chinese foreign interference is “significant,” experts on China are warning.

The comment comes after Global News reported on Monday that Canadian intelligence officials warned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that China has allegedly been targeting Canada with a vast campaign of foreign interference, which included funding a clandestine network of at least 11 federal candidates running in the 2019 election.

The “objective” of campaigns of foreign interference — as well as other forms of pressure, such as the arbitrary detention of two Canadians last year — is to “reduce our autonomy,” said David Mulroney, former Canadian ambassador to China, in an interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson, aired Sunday.

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China wants “to make us much more likely to look over our shoulders, to check in with China, to exempt China from things that should apply to China.”

“The peril for Canada is significant and I don’t think the government has picked up on that and I don’t think it’s inclined to act,” Mulroney said.

Click to play video: 'Size of alleged Chinese interference in Canada ‘astonishing’: experts'
Size of alleged Chinese interference in Canada ‘astonishing’: experts

The Canadian government has toughened its tone relating to China in the last week. Speaking on Wednesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly assured Canadians that the government “will do more to tackle foreign interference.”

“We won’t let any foreign actor meddle in our democracy. Period,” she said.

As part of that effort, she said the government will invest in “deepening our understanding of how China thinks, operates and plans. How it exerts influence in the region and around the world.”

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Key embassies in Canada’s network will have “dedicated experts,” Joly said, to deepen the government’s understanding of China’s goals and challenges.

“This will become a focus of our diplomatic effort,” she said.

The issue of Chinese interference has been growing within Canada, according to Mulroney, “for two decades.”

“CSIS has been bringing report after report forward about Chinese interference operations, Chinese efforts to cultivate with elites in politics, in academics, in journalism, and the introduction of money into Canadian election campaigns,” he said.

But the latest report is “astonishing” due to the “size, ambition and complexity” of the described interference effort.

Mulroney wasn’t alone in this interpretation of the latest allegations of Chinese interference.

Click to play video: 'Trudeau government signals tougher stance on China following alleged election interference'
Trudeau government signals tougher stance on China following alleged election interference

“I don’t think this is imminently surprising in the sense that China’s conducting foreign interference operations in Canada,” said Akshay Singh, international affairs scholar from The Council on International Policy, on a panel for The West Block alongside Mulroney.

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“I think what’s new in these allegations is the depth of what’s happening and the extent to which they’re actually taking place in the country.”

It is “astounding” that China was allegedly able to run this interference effort in 11 different electoral campaigns, Mulroney said. But what the former ambassador said he found “most disturbing” was Global News’ reporting that China conducted research into Canadian MPs who were critical of China’s human rights abuses against the Uyghur population in Xinjiang.

The allegation, contained in CSIS briefs, pertained to a pivotal February 2021 vote in the House of Commons, in which members would either support or reject a United Nations resolution declaring China’s treatment of the Uyghur people a genocide.

Click to play video: '‘Troubling’ that Trudeau knew of China’s possible election interference but didn’t act: Poilievre'
‘Troubling’ that Trudeau knew of China’s possible election interference but didn’t act: Poilievre

The intelligence alleged that, in the aftermath of the House vote, Chinese intelligence agents conducted in-depth background research into MPs who voted in favour of the resolution, which passed with 266 votes in favour and none against.

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The Liberal cabinet abstained from voting.

The agents studied the ridings of specific, targeted MPs in order to learn what industries and companies were present and whether these companies had economic links to China.

The objective was to judge whether China could leverage the local economies of Canadian politicians seen as the CCP’s enemies, sources said.

“It’s frightening because it probably works, in some cases,” Mulroney said.

“I think we need to be taking a very deep, deep look at what China is doing to bring a threat to our autonomy as a country, to our ability to operate independently.”

— with files from Global News’ Sam Cooper

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