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China’s COVID protests show need to protect diaspora communities: advocates

Click to play video: 'Expert says Canada needs to ‘clean up’ alleged Chinese interference'
Expert says Canada needs to ‘clean up’ alleged Chinese interference
WATCH: Canada needs to investigate some of the entities and individuals believed to be acting on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party and targeting dissidents, said Karen Woods, co-founder of the Canadian Chinese Political Affairs Committee – Dec 6, 2022

Chinese Canadians and human rights activists are calling on the federal government to better support the Chinese diaspora amid allegations of so-called “police stations” and attempts at domestic influence campaigns.

Wester Yang, chief director of the non-profit youth organization the Assembly of Citizens, said the Canadian government should be “more cautious” when dealing with the Chinese government.

“We are dealing with a gangster regime who is not willing to follow international laws, it is not a regular state that understands Canadian values,” said Yang, whose organization is registered in Canada and bills itself as a “youth resistance organization” on its website.

Read more: Canadians need to be ‘reassured’ about foreign interference concerns: Trudeau

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Click to play video: 'Protesters against China’s zero-COVID policy gather at Toronto consulate'
Protesters against China’s zero-COVID policy gather at Toronto consulate

The calls from Yang and others for closer scrutiny of Chinese entities operating in Canada and more support for members of the diaspora comes on the heels of a call from the RCMP late last month for anyone who feels threatened by the so-called Chinese police stations to come forward.

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On Nov. 29, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada supports protesters in China who have been “expressing themselves” in opposition to the “zero-COVID” policies of Beijing over recent weeks.

He also stated on Nov. 30 that Western countries have to be thoughtful about how they engage with China to highlight to dissidents in China “that there are other ways of doing things.”

It is rare to see Trudeau has taken a “very strong position” towards China since he came into power in 2015, said Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, in a previous interview with Global News.

Click to play video: 'Trudeau backs Chinese protesters, says China ‘an increasingly challenging economic power’'
Trudeau backs Chinese protesters, says China ‘an increasingly challenging economic power’

But more needs to be done, said Karen Woods, co-founder of the Canadian Chinese Political Affairs Committee, also a federally-registered non-profit group.

“RCMP as well as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) need to pay close attention to the oversea designated community leaders system that China has set up to control and surveillance on our Chinese Canadian diaspora,” said Woods. “I’d rather the government — whether it’s Conservative or Liberal —  start focusing on supporting Chinese Canadians here.”

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She added there needs to be closer scrutiny to investigate some of the entities and individuals believed to be acting on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party and targeting the diaspora.

And she said the need to support free expression and freedom from intimidation among the diaspora is even more important in light of the recent protests in China, a rare wave of dissent against President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party’s COVID-19 policies.

“If China continues to lock down, which it possibly would when COVID cases hit the roof again, you will see more protests like that popping up again in China,” said Woods.

What fuelled Chinese protests dubbed 'A4 Revolution'?

On Nov. 24,  a fire at a residential building in Urumqi, Xinjiang killed 10 people, with accusations claiming that rescues were delayed due to lockdown measures. Chinese officials have denied the accusations.

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Many of Urumqi’s four million residents have been under some of the China’s longest lockdowns due to its zero-COVID policy, which aims to bring down COVID-19 cases by confining people confined to their homes for weeks at a time and requiring near-constant testing.

Read more: China likely ‘very worried’ over zero-COVID protests, experts say. What’s going on?

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The incident, combined with public frustration due to economic downturn, has caused anti-lockdown protests to erupt in more than 20 cities across China, including calls for Xi to resign.

The leaderless movement has since been given a name known as A4 revolution or Blank-Paper Revolution, referring to blank papers held by Chinese protesters due to Chinese censorship.

Yang added that public outrage isn’t simply caused by the party’s zero-COVID policy, but longstanding human rights violations and censorship in China.

Prior to the tragic fire in Urumqi, the Chinese government also tried to censor citizens who mourned the death of Dr. Li Wenliang, a Chinese doctor who first warned authorities in Wuhan about COVID-19, said Yang.

Domestic support, rallies help bridge communities: student

Lorraine Pan, an 18-year-old Chinese international student, said they hope demonstrations in Canada that stand in solidarity with Chinese protesters could strengthen the Chinese diaspora community where like-minded individuals can connect with each other.

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“When I was in China, I don’t think there are a lot of people who hold the same political views as me, but now I know there are many who are like me,” said Pan, referring to their support for LGBTQ+ rights in China and the independence movement.

Pan said Bill S-237, which proposes creating a foreign influence registry, could be “a good start if we want to curb [the] CCP’s influence in Canada.”
Click to play video: 'Trudeau: ‘Our election integrity held’ during 2019 federal vote'
Trudeau: ‘Our election integrity held’ during 2019 federal vote

Creating easier immigration pathways similar to the initiatives put in place for people from Hong Kong to secure permanent residency in Canada should be considered for Chinese political dissidents, Pan said.

“I hope the Canadian government could give them a chance,” they said.

With some Chinese cities loosening up COVID-19 restrictions over the weekend, Yang said there are rumours the protests have died down.

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But he said that’s not the end of the protests — or of the work left for diaspora communities to do.

“As long as this authoritarian regime still rules mainland China, these things could happen again,” said Yang. “Even though the zero-COVID policy might be over one day, our struggling will not be finished, it’s just the beginning.”

— with files from Global’s Rachel Gilmore and the Associated Press

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