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Conservative leadership contender Patrick Brown wins support of Beijing-allied groups, senator – National Post

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Jun 10, 2022  •  5 hours ago  •  6 minute read  •  222 Comments

Federal Conservative leadership candidate Patrick Brown says he wants a balanced policy toward China along the lines of what former PM Stephen Harper pursued when in power. “You can raise human rights concerns and highlight Canadian values at the same time you expand trade.”
Federal Conservative leadership candidate Patrick Brown says he wants a balanced policy toward China along the lines of what former PM Stephen Harper pursued when in power. “You can raise human rights concerns and highlight Canadian values at the same time you expand trade.” Photo by Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press/File

After their party lost another federal election last year, the Chinese Canadian Conservative Association (CCCA) made some striking comments about the Tory platform — and Canada’s relations with Beijing.

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Spokesman Joe Li said the Conservative push for a tougher stance on China had alienated voters of Chinese descent and cost the party three ridings.

Li promoted a more dovish approach, saying Ottawa started the “war” that led to the arbitrary detention of two Canadians, that China should “peacefully” unite with Taiwan and criticism of Beijing’s human-rights record was counter-productive.

The association called for then-leader Erin O’Toole to step down.

Eight months later, O’Toole is gone and the CCCA has chosen its preferred candidate to succeed him, endorsing Brampton, Ont., Mayor Patrick Brown at a recent news conference.

Brown says he’s just eager to welcome more Chinese-Canadians into the party, and that, “of course,” he did not agree with the views Li voiced on China last fall, and has never discussed such issues with him. But the association is not the only one of his leadership supporters in the community to have echoed the Chinese-government stance or had close ties with Beijing.

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The mayor gave a lengthy speech last month at an event partly organized by the Confederation of Toronto Chinese Canadian Organizations (CTCCO), a reliable ally of Beijing for years on issues ranging from Tibet to Hong Kong’s widely condemned National Security Law.

The same forum was co-sponsored by Conservative Senator Victor Oh, who has repeatedly appeared at Chinese embassy and consulate functions and was censured for one of a number of expense-paid trips to China. Brown recently called Oh “a statue of resilience and determination” and “like family to me.”

I wanted to make sure we build a party that reflected the mosaic of the country

The mayor says they all came to him because of his strong stance against anti-Asian hate and desire to better integrate Chinese-Canadians into the party, not because he shares their views on Canada-China relations.

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“I’ve made a determined effort to reach out to every cultural community in the country,” he said in an interview. “It doesn’t matter where you’re born, the colour of your skin, the God you worship, I wanted to make sure we build a party that reflected the mosaic of the country.”

Neither Li nor Oh could be reached for comment.

But some China critics voiced disappointment that a prominent contender for the party leadership has, even unknowingly, allied himself with Beijing-oriented figures.

The Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department — tasked with extending China’s influence overseas and greatly expanded in recent years — works with, and in some cases creates, diaspora groups that are sympathetic to its cause, said Charles Burton, a former diplomat in Beijing.

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And one of its stated goals is to encourage politicians in countries like Canada who are supportive of China.

“I’m concerned,” said Burton, a Macdonald Laurier Institute fellow. “To what extent is he aware of China’s strategy inside Canada?”

His worries are shared by Kenny Chiu, one of three Conservative incumbents beaten last year in ridings with large Chinese-Canadian populations. Chiu, who has endorsed Pierre Poilievre in the leadership race, blames their defeat on misinformation that spread through ethnic and social media, alleging the Tory platform would lead to persecution of people of Chinese descent.

The attacks centred on a private member’s bill of Chiu’s that aimed to set up a registry for agents of foreign governments who deal with senior bureaucrats or elected politicians, similar to a law that’s been in force for decades in the U.S. It was inaccurately described in some Chinese-language media as targeting anyone with links to China.

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O’Toole himself has said the Conservatives lost “eight or nine” seats because of Beijing’s interference.

A report by McGill University’s Media Ecosystem Observatory said Chinese officials and state media made comments that seemed designed to convince Chinese Canadians to vote against the Tories, while misleading information about certain candidates circulated on Chinese-language social media. But those actions didn’t have a significant impact on the “overall” election, it said.

A recent post that Mandarin-fluent Burton found on WeChat, the popular China-based social media site, seemed to tie all those issues back to the leadership election.

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The post urged people to vote for Brown and said Poilievre — front-runner in the contest — is an anti-Chinese racist who would make Chiu his foreign minister if he became prime minister.

Brown’s work with people and groups sympathetic to Beijing “indicates at best that he is ignorant about the infiltration and controlling of thoughts and speech that the Chinese Communists have in Canada,” Chiu said in an interview.

The mayor was endorsed by the CCCA and Li on May 8. The previous October, Li castigated what he called the Tories’ China-bashing platform at an event for ethnic media.

The councillor in York Region north of Toronto said Canada shouldn’t interfere in China’s internal affairs, promoted the peaceful “reunification” of mainland Communist China with democratic Taiwan — something most Taiwanese oppose — and argued Canada “started the war” that led to the detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. Many observers called their imprisonment “hostage diplomacy” after Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

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Two weeks later, Oh and fellow Senator Salma Ataullahjan, along with the CTCCO, feted Brown at an event near Toronto, with Oh declaring that some unnamed leadership candidates promoted “extreme white supremacy.” The Confederation’s chairman, Weng Guoning, stood next to the mayor and clapped as

Former Conservative MP Kenny Chiu says “at best” Patrick Brown “is ignorant about the infiltration and controlling of thoughts and speech that the Chinese Communists have in Canada.”
Former Conservative MP Kenny Chiu says “at best” Patrick Brown “is ignorant about the infiltration and controlling of thoughts and speech that the Chinese Communists have in Canada.” Photo by Jason Payne/Postmedia/File

the gathering sung Happy Birthday to Brown, who had just turned 44.

Former Conservative MP Kenny Chiu says “at best” Patrick Brown “is ignorant about the infiltration and controlling of thoughts and speech that the Chinese Communists have in Canada.”
Former Conservative MP Kenny Chiu says “at best” Patrick Brown “is ignorant about the infiltration and controlling of thoughts and speech that the Chinese Communists have in Canada.” Photo by Jason Payne/Postmedia/File

The CTCCO has long been friendly with the Chinese government, most recently defending Beijing’s crackdown on democracy protesters in Hong Kong. It also worked with the local consulate to promote Beijing’s stance on Tibet, try to bring its Confucius Institute to Toronto schools and celebrate the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic. Beijing’s Overseas Chinese Affairs Office — now part of the United Front Work Department — praised the group on its website.  Honorary chairman Wei Chengyi shook hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a 2019 event in Beijing.

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Oh has often appeared at events hosted by Chinese diplomats. That includes being the “guest of honour” at a virtual embassy reception shortly after the Two Michaels affair was resolved last fall, where Ambassador Cong Peiwu urged Canada to “reflect on its mistakes.” In his remarks there, Oh said China offered a valuable role model for handling COVID-19, according to the Communist Party-run Global Times.

The senator has reported nine sponsored trips to China since 2013, including three where at least some of his expenses were picked up by Chinese provincial governments.

Brown told the CCCA event that he had travelled to China with Oh and “the contacts he has, the relationships he has were beautiful.”

But in an interview, the mayor said he had only shared a flight there with the senator before they went their separate ways, stressing that he picked up his own costs.

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Brown avoided a question about whether he supported setting up a registry for foreign agents as Chiu and the party advocated last election, but said in the interview he has “zero tolerance” for foreign interference. He called for a balanced policy toward China along the lines of what former prime minister Stephen Harper pursued when in power.

“It’s possible to walk and chew gum at the same time. You can raise human rights concerns and highlight Canadian values at the same time you expand trade,” he said. “Does that mean we would be muted if a scenario like we had with the two Michaels or the Uyghur genocide came up? Absolutely not.”

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