WASHINGTON — The Conservative MP at the centre of Canada’s foreign interference saga is telling his story today to U.S. lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Michael Chong, whose tale of Chinese meddling has been a political headache for the federal Liberal government, is testifying before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.
The commission, established in 2000 to keep tabs on Beijing’s human rights record, is a bipartisan committee of U.S. senators, House members and administration officials.
Chong says one of his main goals is to make clear just how widespread Chinese foreign interference is, both in North America and around the world.
He says he’ll be calling for closer U.S.-Canada alignment on presenting a united front to China.
Chong says he remains undaunted by the risk that his testimony ends up making him an even more prominent target for Beijing, particularly in the U.S.
“They’re targeting me because I’m being effective, and so I feel an obligation to continue to speak up, to give voice to the voiceless,” he said in an interview.
“There are people across the country who have been targeted for years, whose stories go untold and who suffer in silence…. That’s what keeps me going.”
Other scheduled witnesses include Yana Gorokhovskaia of the pro-democracy D.C. think tank Freedom House; Laura Harth, the campaign director for the human rights group Safeguard Defenders; and Uyghur activist Rushan Abbas.
In a statement, the commission accused China of a “systemic attempt to rewrite global norms” and of resorting to everything from forced rendition and surveillance to online harassment and street assaults to intimidate dissidents and political prisoners.
Witnesses will discuss China’s tactics, specific cases and targets “in the United States, Canada and worldwide,” and explore ideas “for further congressional and administrative action and transatlantic co-operation.”
The commission’s database includes Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, two Canadians who were arrested and detained without cause in China for nearly three years, an apparent act of retaliation for Canada’s detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.
Meng, the chief financial officer and daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, was arrested in Vancouver in 2018 on an extradition warrant linked to Justice Department charges of bank and wire fraud.
In Canada, as in the U.S., it can be difficult to avoid the spectre of partisan politics when talk turns to China and foreign policy, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on global supply chains.
Virtually every domestic policy decision in the U.S. is made within the broader context of ending U.S. dependence on Chinese suppliers of raw materials, manufactured goods and high-tech components like computer chips and battery minerals.
North of the border, where the federal government’s handling of allegations of Chinese foreign interference has triggered a maelstrom of controversy, a public inquiry is scheduled to begin early next week.
The federal Liberal government, Chong said, still hasn’t done enough in the wake of the Huawei saga to properly fortify its foreign policy approach to China, even as the U.S. and other democracies adopt a more hawkish stance.
“It doesn’t surprise me because I think it is a characteristic of the current government to be slow on implementation,” he said. “This government can’t execute, and so it doesn’t surprise me that they are slow on reacting to this threat.”
Quebec Court of Appeal Justice Marie-Josee Hogue will lead the 16-month inquiry, which is expected to delve into alleged meddling in Canadian affairs by China, Russia and other foreign states and non-state actors.
An interim report is due by the end of February and a final report by the end of December 2024.
In May, the government confirmed a media report that intelligence officials had detected a Chinese plot in 2021 to intimidate Chong and his relatives in Hong Kong. The Liberal government expelled Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei after sustained uproar in Parliament.
In response, China’s embassy expelled Canada’s consul in Shanghai and issued a statement accusing Canada of breaching international law and acting based on anti-Chinese sentiment.
Chong’s alleged targeting in 2021 came after he successfully sponsored a motion in the House of Commons labelling Beijing’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China a genocide. But he was never notified of the potential threats, a mistake he has called a “systematic breakdown in the machinery of government.”
Former governor general David Johnston was named as a special rapporteur to examine the issue, but he stopped short of recommending a public inquiry, touching off another round of partisan howling.
Johnston’s report concluded that the government had not knowingly or negligently failed to act and that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself had not been briefed about specific allegations.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 12, 2023.
James McCarten, The Canadian Press