OTTAWA – Michael Chong says sanctions imposed on him and his international colleagues by China will do nothing to deter them from continuing to speak out against human rights violations.
“The sanctions have only doubled down our resolve to continue to speak up,” the Wellington-Halton Hills MP said in an interview on March 29.
Two days earlier, he was one of a number of individuals and groups in Canada and the United States to be sanctioned by China.
Chong, who serves as the Conservative Party’s foreign affairs critic, is mentioned by name in the sanctions, as is Canada’s House of Commons subcommittee on international human rights, which concluded in October China’s treatment of its Uyghur population amounts to genocide.
“The individuals concerned are prohibited from entering the mainland, Hong Kong and Macao of China, and Chinese citizens and institutions are prohibited from doing business with the relevant individuals and having exchanges with the relevant entity,” reads a statement from China’s foreign ministry.
Chong called the sanctions a “tit-for-tat” move in response to Canada, the U.S., U.K. and European Union imposing sanctions last week on four Chinese officials suspected of being responsible for the persecution of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in China’s Xinjiang province.
The United Nations and international rights experts have stated one to two million Muslims have been detained in camps in Xinjiang and subjected to forced labour, indoctrination and abuse/torture that includes forced sterilizations and abortions.
China has repeatedly denied accusations of abuse and genocide, insisting its camps offer vocational training and help fight extremism. Its foreign ministry has stated sanctions introduced by Canada and other nations are “based on rumours and disinformation.”
Chong explained sanctions placed on China were in response to “gross violations” of human rights and international laws, whereas sanctions placed on him and others by China are a response to people practicing freedom of speech.
“I think that’s an important distinction to note,” Chong said.
He views the sanctions on him as odd considering that, as a member of the opposition, he is not involved in decisions made by the Canadian government.
“I think I’m being singled out because I’m being vocal on it,” Chong explained, mentioning his call for action on the Meng Wanzhou/Huawei file and, more recently, his urging the government to recognize China’s treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities as genocide.
Chong noted on Twitter he considers sanctions against him “a badge of honour” and he told the Advertiser they’re proof that he and others have been effective in holding the Liberal government to account and in standing up to China’s poor human rights record.
Canadian political leaders of all stripes have supported Chong and the others China has targeted with its retaliatory sanctions.
“The Canadian MPs sanctioned by the Chinese Communist Party have used the freedom we enjoy as Canadians to call the world’s attention to the genocide against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang,” stated Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole on social media. “I am proud of the work by MPs of all parties.”
O’Toole added, “Michael Chong and Kenny Chiu also show how Canadians with Chinese ancestry can stand as resolute critics of the repressive acts of the Communist Party while being proud of the rich Chinese history and culture.”
In a March 27 statement, foreign affairs minister Marc Garneau noted, “China’s sanctions against Canadian parliamentarians and democratic institutions are unacceptable and an attack on transparency and freedom of expression.
“The Government of Canada stands with parliamentarians and all Canadians as we continue to work with partners in defence of democracy and freedom of speech and will continue to take action when international human rights obligations are violated. We need to stand together to remind those who violate human and democratic rights that the world is watching.”
Some Chinese officials have responded to Canadian criticism by pointing out Canada itself has a history of human rights abuses against Indigenous peoples and other groups.
“The difference between Canada and China is that we acknowledge … that we’re not perfect when it comes to human rights and our past,” Chong said, adding China consistently denies it has done anything wrong.
He called the Liberal cabinet’s abstention on the vote on the genocide motion “an abdication of leadership.”
“For years the Liberal government has been naive to the threat China posed to our citizens, our companies and our values,” Chong told the Advertiser.
He added “the almighty dollar” has also played a role in the government’s inaction, noting there is a lot of money to be made by dealing with China.
China’s foreign ministry has stated the individuals and groups on which it is placing sanctions “must stop political manipulation on Xinjiang-related issues, stop interfering in China’s internal affairs in any form and refrain from going further down the wrong path.
“Otherwise, they will get their fingers burnt.”
Chong said he and others won’t be deterred, and he is calling on the Canadian government to take action, including a ban on the import of Chinese cotton, which makes up one-fifth of the world’s supply, and tomatoes.
The MP said there is evidence both industries operate with forced labour.
“There’s plenty of alternatives from countries that do not violate human rights and international law,” Chong stressed.
The Conservative Party is also calling on the government to immediately stop making payments to the Asian Infrastructure Bank, which Chong said China uses to spread its influence in the region.
“We believe Canada never should have joined the bank in the first place,” said Chong, who added a complete withdrawal from the organization is justified.
Chong said Canada acting alone won’t change anything, as its economy is one-seventh the size of China’s, but if the country joins others such as the U.S., UK, Australia and some in Europe, it could have a huge impact.
“As time goes on, it’s clear that democracies are starting to react,” he said.
Chong explained that history has shown that while slow to mobilize, “democracies eventually get their act together – and when they do, they’ve always prevailed.”