WELLINGTON COUNTY – It’s not often Canada has the attention of Congress, Wellington-Halton Hills MP Michael Chong told the Advertiser recently, so when it does, it’s important to seize the opportunity.
The Conservative shadow minister of foreign affairs testified before a bipartisan congressional committee in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 12, for a hearing on Chinese transnational repression.
Consisting of both Republican and Democratic members of Congress, as well as appointed members of the executive branch of the U.S. government, the committee has focused on China’s human rights record for the past 23 years.
Chong spoke about his personal experiences with Chinese foreign interference in Canada, and called for better Canada-U.S. collaboration on matters of national security.
“My experience is but one case of Beijing’s interference in Canada,” Chong told members of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.
It was revealed earlier this year, following reporting in the Globe and Mail, that Chong and family members in Hong Kong had allegedly been targeted by the People’s Republic of China for potential sanctions, with the help of Chinese consular official Zhao Wei in Toronto. Wei was expelled from Canada in May.
The information gathering on the MP and his distant family followed Chong’s successful 2021 human rights subcommittee motion to recognize China’s genocidal treatment of Muslim minorities in the country’s Xinjiang region.
Beijing responded at the time by imposing travel and economic sanctions on Chong and others.
Chong was back in headlines again in August, when Global Affairs Canada announced the MP was targeted in an online disinformation campaign on the social media application WeChat, which the Canadian government suspects is linked to the Chinese state.
“Many, many other cases [go] unreported and unnoticed, and the victims suffer in silence,” Chong told U.S. lawmakers, who invited the MP after reading reporting about his experiences.
“Canada must work toward a stronger defence and security partnership with the United States and allies,” Chong said.
“We must look for every opportunity to strengthen this partnership to meet the challenge of rising authoritarianism, and to preserve our fundamental freedoms, our democracy and the rule of law.”
‘Sunlight and transparency’
Republican House Representative and committee chair Chris Smith asked Chong what’s missing in the Canada-U.S. relationship.
The MP harped on the need for a foreign agent registry in Canada, and suggested the two countries could exchange information on legislative models. The U.S. implemented such a registry in 1938.
Chong said the western democracies should also use “sunlight and transparency” to counter threat activities.
“Our security agencies and services, our experts have told us that often, foreign interference, transnational repression, doesn’t rise to the level of a criminal prosecution,” Chong explained.
“So one way to counter it is to make it public; to go public with the intelligence.”
Responding to a question from Republican Senator Dan Sullivan about how Canada and the U.S. could work closer together, Chong said Canada could learn from the U.S. when it comes to keeping certain products out of the country.
“Much of the cotton and many of the tomatoes produced in Xinjiang province, in western China, are being produced through the forced labour of Uyghurs,” Chong said.
Those products are exported around the world, and while Chong lauded U.S. efforts to keep such products out, he said Canadian policy leaves much to be desired.
“We have evidence that those products continue to flow into Canada, and I think that’s an area where we should learn from U.S. best practices on stopping these products from coming into our country,” he said.
Sullivan suggested that Canada and the U.S. “should also go on offence.”
“You want to mess with us, okay, we’ll mess with you, and maybe we’ll bring your leadership down,” Sullivan remarked.
“I think by naming and shaming bad actors, by using intelligence and making some of that public … I think will go a long way in countering this threat,” Chong said.
Democrat House Representative Jim McGovern ranted about content posted to Twitter before Chong suggested looking to Taiwan’s “very different approach.”
“Taiwan is ground-zero for the PRC’s (People’s Republic of China) disinformation operations,” Chong said, noting the country has appointed a minister of digital affairs.
The MP visited Taiwan earlier this year as part of a Canadian delegation, and spoke with senior officials there about how they handle meddling in their democratic process.
Taiwan’s policy is “grounded in resiliency, it’s grounded in the education system … and in empowering civil society groups to counter this disinformation,” Chong told lawmakers.
Countering disinformation must be balanced against press freedom and freedom of speech, Chong said.
House Representatives Republican Ryan Zinke and Democrat Andrea Salinas asked about risks to western intellectual property and research.
Chong believes Canadian and U.S. governments should ban funding for research done with the PRC or the People’s Liberation Army in areas of telecommunications, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, biological medical products, and clean technology.
“We should be clear that we will not fund research partnerships [or] research that is done in collaboration with PRC entities in [those] five sensitive areas of research,” he stated.
‘Opportunity to advance Canada’s agenda’
Speaking with the Advertiser following his testimony, Chong said his two key messages — that Canadians are being threatened on Canadian soil by authoritarian regimes, and that the two countries need to work closer together to combat threats — were heard “loud and clear.”
“No one democracy can do this alone, and no one measure is sufficient,” he added.
The visit was Chong’s first time speaking before a congressional committee, which has more power than committees of a similar nature do in the Canadian political system.
Commissions or committees south of the border, he said, are “well-briefed and well-informed,” with the White House bound to decisions made by Congress members.
The China commission reports annually to Congress and the president, with hearings such as the one Chong participated in, used to glean information for reports.
“I think it was a real opportunity to advance Canada’s agenda,” Chong said.
“When we do get an opportunity to appear in front of a congressional commission, I think it’s really important that we drive home a clear message.”
The MP said “a number” of Congress members have expressed interest in working closer.
“We’re going to be doing that,” Chong said.