PRC targeting of overseas ‘activists’ has implications for Canada

Many people flee oppressive regimes to countries such as Canada: if they are pursued we have an obligation to help them

This piece first appeared in the Epoch Times on July 5, 2023,

Canada is seen by many as a refuge. A refuge for those from regimes where their opinions or their missions are seen as inconsistent with the types of societies those regimes try to impose on their populations. In these nations, there is one way, and only one way, of doing things. You either acquiesce or you get out (a third option is to stay and try to effect change but that usually leads to arrest on dubious charges).

The PRC is one such regime. It has cracked down on dissent from whatever direction – Uyghurs, Tibetans, Falun Gong, whatever, for three-quarters of a century and counting. And, more recently, those efforts at shutting up any disagreement with the status quo has come to Hong Kong. On July 3, the ‘government’ in Hong Kong issued warrants for the detention of eight ‘dissidents’ – two in Australia and three each in the US and UK – on charges of ‘serious crimes’ against the territory’s National Security Law.

None of this should be of any surprise to anyone. The Chinese government decides what is acceptable and what is not, and any criticism – ANY criticism of Xi Jinping and his cronies – is most definitely not acceptable. As a consequence, anyone who is merely perceived as going against the wishes of Xi is labeled an enemy of the state and trumped-up charges are laid. Hence the recent announcement regarding the Hong Kong eight.

As a side note, did anyone really think that China’s re-acquisition of control in Hong Kong after a century and a half as a UK colony would lead to anything other than brutal state control? If you did, have a chat with residents of the island and see how they have viewed the past quarter century and get back to me.

What does this mean aside from a continuation of predictable PRC policy towards what it sees as ‘dissidents’ (or, more to its liking, ‘criminals’)? For one, it is one more indication of growing Chinese boldness on the world stage (menacing moves against Taiwan, the 9-dash line in the South China sea, the global Belt and Road initiative, etc.) as the nation tries to throw its weight around. More importantly, however, it shows that the PRC doesn’t really care about what anyone else, especially in the West, thinks of its power grab and expects others to kowtow to its wishes.

There are obstacles, of course. The first lies in whether China has in place extradition treaties with the countries ‘harbouring’ these people. For the record, neither the US nor UK have such an agreement and the one with Australia has not been ratified. This may complicate China’s demands that the seven men and one woman be returned to the PRC post haste. The second is how these nations view China and whether the absence of an extradition treaty would be set aside in the interests of bilateral relations. Here too, the outlook is not in China’s favour. None of the three appear to be keen to give in to the PRC recently – heck, Australia has been through trade wars with it lately – and I would be surprised if the governments of those nations acquiesce to China’s demands.

While there are no individuals living at this time in Canada, that does not entail that we can ignore this gambit. We are home to all kinds of others who fled China – Uyghurs, Tibetans, Falun Gong, Hong Kongers (in the run-up to the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997 British Columbia became a popular place to transfer people and funds) – and whom we should not willingly force back to the PRC. Not without solid evidence.

If China does not get its way, it does have other tools it can avail itself of. We have all heard of the ‘police stations’ in Canada and elsewhere which are anything but law enforcement offices (they are used to put pressure on perceived enemies). We all know of those who have received visits or calls/emails asking them to tone down the anti-PRC rhetoric or ‘Auntie Jing’ may find her life getting more difficult back in Harbin. These Chinese tactics are very well known to our intelligence and police services as well as to human rights organisations. I hope the Trudeau government is listening (then again given what we learned in the David Johnston inquiry into Chinese interference in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections I would not bet the mortgage on that).

Canada, Australia, the UK and the US need to push back against these demands from the PRC before making any decision on rendition. At a minimum they must see real evidence of criminal activity in Hong Kong (based on international standards of crime, not what China calls it). We cannot bow to their requests to protect trade and economic relationships. I am confident that three of the nations are strong enough to do so (guess which one I am less sure of?).

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.