Anti-China is now the default position of many, if not most parliamentarians in the English-speaking world, probably the West in general. I leave aside the question as to whether Beijing has asked for it. But the hawkish bandwagon does have two immediate consequences for backbenchers.
The China hawks will enjoy an easy meal ticket, which on the one hand offers an incentive for them to outdo each other. This can easily lead to exaggerations and even false claims about “the China threat”. On the other hand, those perceived to be close to China, or soft on it, leave themselves open to attacks, which can be vicious and personal. Two of the latest incidents – one in Britain, the other in Canada – offer some insights into such developments.
Former Liberal member of parliament Han Dong has served Global News in Canada with a notice of libel over articles alleging that he was a “witting” participant in a Beijing-backed foreign interference network in the country.
A particularly incendiary claim by Global News is that Dong advised Han Tao, China’s consul general in Toronto, that Beijing should delay releasing Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who were accused of spying but were more likely to have been held as pawns to extract the release of Huawei’s No 2 Meng Wanzhou, then detained in Vancouver. Whether the actual news report amounts to libel will have to be settled legally. But at the very least, I think it’s fair to say that its contents are a lot less than meets the eye, and would not have been given the time of day by its senior editors if Canada were not currently in the grip of public hysteria over China’s influence operations in the country; of this, there is more discussion below.
Meanwhile, British Tory MP Alicia Kearns told GB News that she had a panic button in every room of her house because “hostile states” such as China may want to hurt her. I rather doubt it, even if her claim has been repeated by other British news outlets since last week. Granted, Kearns is no small fry, as she is chairwoman of the influential Foreign Affairs Select Committee in parliament. But are the Chinese communists targeting her and her family personally?
There is no doubt that China takes a dim view of Kearns. From her position on the committee, she and members of the China Research Group, composed of hawkish Conservative MPs, and those of the All-Party Parliamentary Group, have successfully turned their anti-China stance into the mainstream position across the political aisle in the British parliament.
However, if China really contemplated assassinating or otherwise physically harming British political leaders, there are many others much higher up the totem pole who would be more usefully targeted. In fact, as told to GB News and repeated by others, her claim makes little sense.
She said installing panic buttons in her house was not her own initiative, but that she merely followed the advice of the security services.
“I was given that advice and, of course, you take the advice that’s given to you by security experts,” she was quoted as saying.
Why was she given the advice? She explained: “There are MPs whose children are taken to school by the police every morning.
“There are colleagues who are told that they need police protection at all times in their own constituencies, who have stalkers, who have people outside their offices in balaclavas.
“I was advised that I needed panic alarms in every room in my house because of death threats I’ve received, threats against my children who are both under four, and because of the interest in hostile states in trying to undermine me and hurt me.”
Now, if you take out the last clause of the last sentence, those were all domestic threats – “stalkers”, people “in balaclavas”, and “threats against my children”.
It’s well-known that ever since David Amess, a Tory MP, was stabbed to death in his own constituency in October 2021, police and the security services have upgraded the threat levels and protection for MPs. Amess’ attacker was Ali Harbi Ali, a 25-year-old British man and an Islamic State sympathiser who was subsequently convicted and jailed for life.
Since the start of the escalating cost-of-living crisis in Britain a year ago, there has been a rise in the reporting of harassment and attacks against MPs.
It’s possible that Beijing wants to target Kearns. But it seems more plausible that she is deliberately turning a domestic threat into a “China threat” to fit a narrative that she has been championing as a hawk against Beijing.
Meanwhile, let’s return to the case of Han Dong. Citing unnamed sources from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the country’s equivalent of the American CIA, Global News headlined the story, “Liberal MP Han Dong secretly advised Chinese diplomat in 2021 to delay freeing Two Michaels: sources”.
By 2021, the whole furore over the US-requested extradition of Meng and the Chinese detention of the two Michaels had become a major international crisis involving the highest level of government in all three countries. Dong and Han really were small fries; their input one way or another was irrelevant. It might have been a different matter had Dong talked to China’s ambassador to Canada, to whom he didn’t have the same access.
While the meaning of Global’s headline was clear, it’s actually hard to work out exactly what the story was claiming because of obvious inconsistencies, even contradictions.
On the one hand, it claimed that “Dong allegedly suggested to Han Tao … that if Beijing released the ‘Two Michaels,’ whom China accused of espionage, the Opposition Conservatives would benefit.”
On the other hand, the story claimed “Dong also allegedly recommended that Beijing show some progress in the Kovrig and Spavor cases, the two sources said. Such a move would help the ruling Liberal Party, which was facing an uproar over China’s inhumane treatment of Kovrig and Spavor.”
The entire story never explained why securing the early release of the two Michaels would benefit the opposition Conservatives while progress in their treatment but delay in their release would instead benefit the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau. Logically, wouldn’t it work the other way around – that is, delay would benefit the Conservatives in opposition as they could continue to criticise the Liberal government’s ineffectual diplomacy while early release would shut up the opposition and earn kudos for the ruling Liberal government and Trudeau?
Also, thanks to subsequent reporting from The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, we know that those anonymous CSIS sources approached other outlets besides Global News, which was the only one to run the story.
According to an official statement from the Office of the Prime Minister, the CSIS never bothered to hand over the transcript of the phone conversation between Dong and Han until the story broke and after Dong gave Trudeau’s office his version of the events.
Neither the CSIS nor the PM’s office and its attached National Security Office have found anything untoward – or at least anything bad enough – to take further action against Dong, who has insisted he always pushed for the Michaels’ immediate release. The transcript of the phone conversation between Dong and Han, incidentally, was never made available to Global News or the Globe and Mail.
This is what most probably happened. Some lower-level spooks within the CSIS were upset that their bosses were not taking the interaction between Dong and Han more seriously. After all, many within the Canadian intelligence community take a much more hawkish view of China, believing what the same Global News story has described as “China’s allegedly vast subversion of Canada’s democracy, including clandestine interference in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections”. Even so, the federal government has acknowledged the election outcomes were not so affected.
Global News ran with the story, which at best was a proverbial storm in a teacup or at worst a non-story whose only serious impact has been on the life, reputation and career of Dong, and his family, and cast further suspicion on the loyalty of the larger Chinese community.
Source : South China Morning Post