The Claws of the Panda:Beijing's Campaign of Influence and Intimidation in Canada

Date Reviewed
October 19th 2019



'The Claws of the Panda:Beijing's Campaign of Influence and Intimidation in Canada” by veteran journalist Jonathan Manthorpe is a call to beware of the machinations of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to advance its interests and reputation in this country.


Manthorpe, with much experience in China, makes clear his target is the CCP and not China, the Chinese, Chinese immigrants or Chinese Canadians.


While I don't question the facts the author presents, I am not convinced by his emphasis and conclusions about the dangers. But certainly it is a wakeup call on things to watch and a push toward skepticism in dealing with China.


Books and movies have created the impression that spying is a devious and diabolically clever profession so what he reveals here seems simplistic and clumsy. These schemes linked back to the CCP seem run of the mill with little sophistication.


This may reflect a superficial understanding of how modern democracies work. Although China's is not an unintelligent leadership, tactics may be a product of a society that doesn't have a good understanding of the rule of law and is projecting the tactics that have been successful in China and aimed primarily at those of Chinese ethnicity in Canada.


The other side seems to be strategies that lure people motivated by potential gain through trade (business people). At one point, Manthorpe says businesses are generally more comfortable with autocratic governance, not implausible given that is the form of governance used in business.


China's tack with capitalism suggests that the government of Canada should be more vigilant in how Canadian businesses are sold and it may have to buy some it values.


What sophistication China may have used in the past has been compromised by its rising mojo and resurgence of its sublime sense of superiority recently, a product of economic success. Following more than a century where the world's greatest country (at least in its own eyes) fell to an unimaginable low, that it now has a chance to flex its muscles is a compelling temptation.


Manthorpe's book would have been a more clarion warning had it come out a couple of years ago. The recent repercussions of quid pro quo arrest of Canadians in China following the detention of the CEO of Huawei (a CCP supported company) and several blunt economic sanctions with transparent pretensions have alerted most Canadians and the government to CCP concerns and will.


This puts an exclamation mark on Manthorpe's warnings.


In his introduction, the author is clear on his anti-CCP motive for writing the book, but he begins with a synopsis of Chinese history followed by Canada's introduction to China through the missionary movement and the huge imprint it left on Canada's foreign service during the first half of the 20th century. The mid part of the book dealing with the early to mid-20th century, including the role of Paul Lin, is quite fascinating for those with a special interest in China.


At the end of the book, after elaborating on the threats presented by the CPP, the author concludes that the rise of populism in the western democracies, manifest by Donald Trump, Brexit, Doug Ford in Ontario and Marine Le Pin, may be a greater danger to democracy than the external threats.


He details similar initiatives of the CCP in New Zealand and Australia. Manipulation of ethnic Chinese through threats to them and their families back in China seem to pose the greatest danger.


The author points out that China has become a “surreptitious” colonial power having effectively taken over much of northern Myanmar with settlers coming south into the country. It has also used profits from sale of consumer goods to buy mineral rights around the world.


Democracy and human rights don't fit the CCP model and it has one of its own. It is also suspicious of international institutions such as the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.


Manthorpe expects the CCP to follow the pattern to ultimate demise that other Chinese dynasties have, but not soon.


He believes Canadian politicians have to assume a tougher more self-assured stance in dealing with Beijing.


He says that the CCP will never allow any foreign country to change China's civic and human rights. And it does not accept the rule of law or an independent judiciary, cornerstones of democracy.


Yet China continues to try to manipulate and intimidate many of the 1.56 million Chinese immigrants to Canada, many or most of whom may have left to avoid CCP policies.


Manthorpe is critical of Canada's government for failing to address this. To a degree the CCP agents can hide behind Canada's remorse for some of the indefensible racist policies against Asians in the past.


But nevertheless, he says, it is harder for the CCP to influence policies in the democratic countries than in authoritarian countries in Africa and Asia. And its influence continues to grow, now even quicker with the U.S., under Donald Trump, abdicating its traditional role.


The CCP's prime enemies are the “five poisonous groups” advocates for independence for Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan, promoters of democracy and the Falun Gong. And they will try to counter these outside of China's borders, usually through ethic Chinese.


The CCP is little constrained by national borders or laws. The party often uses the word 'corrupt' to stigmatize those suspected of criticizing the government.


The primary job of intelligence agents working abroad is to recruit local informants and spies who can provide intelligence. In recent decades, he says, many “operations have been unmasked” around the world. Some claim this is evidence of how much spying they do, others have suggested it reflects how incompetent the Chinese are at it.


The CCP persists in seeing the 50 million overseas Chinese (80 percent have taken the nationality of the country they live in) as an asset to promote its political interests. Some are susceptible, some not, having “escaped” communist China. The author doesn't point out that many Chinese may have been economic immigrants when leaving in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, like immigrants from other countries. Further many Chinese, not interested in politics, may see economic progress sufficient to support the party.


In addition, they use “political friends” in other countries to advance the cause. There are various gradations of “friends of China” and they are maintained to the degree they are of political use to the CCP.


In the meantime, the CCP tries to keep its 55 recognized minorities aware that their culture is subservient to its.


The first real example of Chinese ire toward Canada was when the government in the wake of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, offered a quick path to citizenship for Chinese nationals in the country, most of whom were students. About 80 per cent took up the offer. But there was little interruption in commercial exchanges


Canada was on the verge of negotiations for the recognition of communist China in 1950, but they were derailed by the Korean War.


Later inclinations met with vehement opposition from the U.S. when the Canadian valued United Nations was threatened.


The entrance of Pierre Trudeau in the late 1960s ushered in a prime minister with first hand experience in China, at least as a traveller. He was willing to tweak the ire of the U.S. And China, says the author, thought Canada the best candidate.


Given the expectation, even then, that China was destined to be a major power, leaving it without friends didn't seem prudent to the Trudeau administration.


Student exchange has long been an aspect of relations, but the large number from China, says Manthorpe, provide a route for the intelligence agencies. Those students flock to the sciences especially electrical engineering, computer science, mechanical engineering, chemistry and physics. Canadians going to China opt for arts courses such as Asian studies, education and languages.


The missionary element, to an extent pushing human rights, influenced foreign policy, which held that as China developed a middle class, with economic exchange, there would be a trend toward human rights. This hasn't occurred.


Along with China's sense of superiority is an acute awareness that historically the system dissolves into chaos as a dynasty runs its term. So people have to make preparations for that eventuality. In Canada, it manifests itself in buying real estate and establishing residency and citizenship. Of course the concerning cycle has normally been two or three centuries, longer than many western countries have been in existence. There is no reason to think demise of the CCP is around the corner. And of course real crooks and not just fallen political stars may be on the move.


The investor-immigrant program favouring people bringing investment money led to false claims and as such has enhanced the laundering of money. A surprising number of Triad (organized crime) members have immigrated to Canada.


There is a growing awareness of a trend, starting in the 1980s, and that is Chinese ownership or stakes in Canadian companies. Influential Canadians were induced to take positions on boards.


Attracting intelligence services to Canada are advanced technology, a strong economy with natural resources and a wealthy consumer base, ability to control immigrants and influence institutions and finally proximity to the U.S.


The flood of immigrants from Hong Kong provided cover for CCP spies.


Helping the foreign intelligence cause were businesses that didn't want their commercial interests compromised with too heavy policing of CPP interests. “Business people the world over are natural allies of authoritarian regimes.” And the CPP welcomes wealthy Hong Kong businessmen with opportunities on the mainland. It also utilized the Triads for its political interests in Hong Kong


While ethnic Chinese may be of most concern, apparently the CPP has success recruiting non Chinese to work for them.


The CCP tries to control the editorial message of all outside Chinese media and get the other media to focus on its achievements and it has the money to do it.


And while the CPP manipulates the message, that is not to say many citizens don't agree and are content with economic progress.


The CCP tries to control Chinese national academic groups in other other countries, sometimes infiltrating student and academic organizations and keep them under the thumbs of consulates.


The CCP sponsored Confucian institutes and offered them to Canadian schools and universities, ostensibly for cultural reasons, but Manthorpe says they were more propaganda and espionage and some 'beneficiaries' rejected or expelled them.


In addition, the universities are becoming dependent on the large tuitions being paid by the Chinese students, hence reducing their willingness to annoy the CCP.


For some Chinese parents, the education may be a useful by product while the goal is to get a foothold both residentially and financially in Canada for their families. Manthorpe doesn't point out that Canada may be getting some of China's brightest people in this exchange.


Chinese parents may also get their children enrolled in one of the nearly 60 Canadian schools in China. Again this may be a knife that cuts both ways and not just favouring the CCP.


Manthorpe says Canada has no hope of changing China, yet is being changed itself. As an example the corporate world has seen declining standards of rule of law, and contracts and increases in corruption and disdain for social disparity, he says.


“With its roots still firmly anchored in authoritarian Marxism, the CCP doesn't trust the Global marketplace.” Here I perceive a need to state a difference in ideology and not an intellectually rigorous comment.


No doubt China is trying to gain access to raw materials to keep its economy growing. And they are making deals with countries, especially in Africa, to get them.


Unregulated industrialism has contaminated agricultural land making food of unreliable safety.


He points out that Canada's energy resources are in China's sights. Many in the industry here are eager to sell them. Maybe the Canadian government should be combatting this by buying the companies when they are up for sale. The government may have more concern with the consequences than somebody wanting to hit the bonanzas in selling stock.


China's population is 30 times greater than Canada's and its economy more than seven times larger and the trade imbalance is three to one in its favour. But ultimately what we buy is likely less needed than what China wants to buy.


Manthorpe suggests that Canada focus on trade agreements with more socially progressive countries. This of course contradicts a modern capitalist dictum of sell to the highest bidder and buy from the cheapest supplier.


The author cites a People's Bank of China study that found that 60 per cent of China's millionaires were either in the process of emigrating or were planning to.


An interesting comment “China has evolved a magnificent, stable culture that survived changes of regime unchanged but has never managed to produce a government the citizenry can trust.”


I have read other materials that suggest that the Chinese populace trust their current government more than many other populations trust theirs, particularly local government.


People are starting to protest air water and soil pollution, that threaten health.


A second passport and assets abroad are survival tools for those who can afford.


He says, the Canadian system goes out of its way to allow and even encourage the use of its real estate market to launder ill-gotten gains. Other than the triads, I don't know who else is suspected of ill gotten gains, unless by definition defecting CCP members. My son, a Canadian citizen living in China, is now required to pay a tax to buy a house in his hometown.


Manthorpe suggests that provincial politicians don't want to look too closely at the profitable-for-the government casinos. Tax revenues?


Communist party officials have the best channel for exporting money. He says the corruption associated with the money will take years, if not decades to eradicate.


Manthorpe says the Liberal party and is business supporters are in favour of closer ties with China.


He says China is trying to revamp or supplant international institutions set up by democracies after WW 2. China is promoting authoritarian capitalism as more stable than its democratic relative.


The author says Canada's political classes are far from admitting that subversion by the CCP is a problem. And China courts politicians in Canada.


After heightening the sense of worry, Manthorpe says, institutions of democracies are not as easy to pervert as some might think. The CCP cultivates venality, but it misunderstands other aspects of open societies.