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Canadian media’s double standard on ‘foreign influence’ has become painfully clear

Canadian PoliticsAsiaMedia

Flag of the People’s Republic of China during the Olympic opening ceremony in Beijing, August 7, 2008. Photo by Philip McMaster/Flickr.

According to the Globe and Mail, foreign influence in Canada is bad if it comes from China, but it’s barely worth mentioning when Israel is involved.

Lately, Canada’s ‘paper of record’ has been so gripped with anti-Chinese fervour that it has become blind to a blatant double standard. Contrasting the Globe’s reporting on Chinese influence in Canada with its coverage of the Israel lobby highlights the increasingly Sinophobic nature of its journalism and commentary.

Alongside Washington’s efforts to stir up international opposition to the Chinese government, the Globe has sought to expose China’s influence in Canada. The paper has recently criticized Chinese government funded Confucius Institutes, which sponsor Mandarin programs and other educational initiatives in colleges and universities around the world. In an October 15 story, the Globe reported on a Vancouver area Confucius Institute-promoted school program where children read a poem that included the line “I am proud! I am Chinese!”

In a follow-up column citing the poetry reading, the Globe’s national affairs columnist Gary Mason lamented that Canada lacks “laws or protections to force organizations acting in the interest of foreign powers to be registered and accountable.”

More recently, in a column published on November 11, the paper’s chief political writer, Campbell Clark, called for legislation to blunt Chinese influence in Canada. “The first [thing to do] is to establish much greater transparency about the people in Canada working on behalf of foreign interests. The second is a law that signals it is not acceptable to secretly do the bidding of a foreign government in Canada.”

On October 28, the Globe’s Robert Fife and Stephen Chase published a story decrying statements released by a group of Chinese-Canadian associations on the 70th anniversary of the Korean War. The statements, posted mostly on WeChat, celebrated China’s role in fighting the United States and its allies, who are described as “aggressors and imperialists.” The story quoted former Canadian diplomat and senior fellow at the right-wing Macdonald-Laurier Institute, Charles Burton, who said “it is so wrong to get Canadians to identify with the interests of a foreign state. That goes against the principle of citizenship.”

What the article failed to mention, however, was that the statement is historically accurate. As many as four million mostly Koreans and Chinese died in a war that was launched in part to curb the spread of China’s successful communist revolution to other parts of the region. Before China entered the war, American aircraft bombed the northern part of the country into oblivion. In fact, by the end of the conflict, the US and its allies had dropped more bombs on the Korean Peninsula—the overwhelming majority of them on North Korea—than they had in the entire Pacific Theater of the Second World War. Beijing only sent forces into Korea after hundreds of thousands of hostile US-led troops approached its border. In other words, there is a strong case to be made that the Korean War was a conflict of imperialist aggression, not a simplistic standoff between the democratic West and an evil communist menace.

A follow-up Globe commentary partly based on the Korean War story soon followed. It noted that “these groups are revealing themselves as being plugged in and susceptible to the Chinese propaganda media; they seem to identify with China rather than with Canada.”

Since August, the Globe has published a series of other reports and opinion pieces critical of Chinese influence in Canada, including “Ontario legislature criticized for plans to fly China’s flag on Wednesday,” “CSIS warns China’s Operation Fox Hunt is targeting Canada’s Chinese community,” “Trudeau says Beijing’s targeting of Canadian Chinese community has ‘intensified’,” “CSIS warns about China’s efforts to recruit Canadian scientists” and “Universities, school boards across Canada defend ties with China’s Confucius Institute.”

As the Globe has campaigned against Chinese influence and those who “identify with the interests of a foreign state,” they have also ignored far more flagrant examples of Israeli nationalists doing the very same thing. For example, the Globe failed to report on the Israel lobby’s recent “threats, bullying and harassment” of the owners of Foodbenders, a small left-wing Toronto restaurant which has openly expressed solidarity with Palestinian self-determination and criticized the actions of the Israeli government.

Last month, an open letter signed by Noam Chomsky, Roger Waters, filmmaker Ken Loach, author Yann Martel, former MP Jim Manly, poet El Jones and more than 150 others was delivered to Justice Minister David Lametti calling on the federal government to apply charges under the Foreign Enlistment Act against those recruiting Canadians for the Israeli military within this country’s borders. The Globe ignored the letter and the associated legal complaint as well as a campaign that saw more than 1,400 individuals email their MPs calling for an investigation into domestic recruitment efforts undertaken by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

As I have detailed elsewhere, a number of Toronto schools openly promote the Israeli military. Canada’s largest private high school, TanenbaumCHAT, organizes fundraisers for Israeli military initiatives and holds regular “IDF days.” Additionally, students sing the Israeli national anthem and fly the Israeli flag.

A school enticing young people to join another country’s military is a far clearer example of “acting in the interest of foreign powers” then reciting a nationalist Chinese poem or echoing Beijing’s perspective on the Korean War. One could fairly assume that if the above-mentioned comments directed at Chinese-Canadian organizations were leveled against groups promoting Israel there would be a flurry of accusations of anti-Semitism, just as there were when two Liberal MPs, Anthony Housefather and Michael Levitt, were accused by lawyer and activist Dimitri Lascaris in 2018 of being “more devoted to apartheid Israel than to their own prime minister and colleagues in the Liberal caucus.”

Of course, defending China is a complicated matter. While there is plenty to object to about the actions of the Chinese government, it has succeeded in mostly breaking away from foreign domination over the past 70 years—a feat that is embodied by the common sentimental connection many Chinese people have to the Korean War and what it represents in popular imagination. Despite this, the country’s per capita GDP is still only $10,261—roughly equal to Mexico—and its global influence has yet to reflect its share of the world’s population.

Permitting the uncritical promotion of a state like Israel (let alone recruiting for its military) is unquestionably acting in the interests of a foreign power. This fact is made less complicated in light of the Israeli government’s repeated violations of international law, its rapacious settlement building in the Occupied Territories, and its routine assaults on the people of Gaza. Israel is also actively contributing to instability in the Middle East—contrary to Canada’s stated geopolitical objectives—and has been bombing Syria on a near weekly basis.

Understanding what is truly going on in the realm of foreign affairs is challenging at the best of times, and the Globe’s double standard when it comes to its coverage of China and Israel makes understanding the world that much more difficult.

Until the mainstream media dispenses with its fixation on great power rivalry, and focuses less on propaganda about Canada’s perceived adversaries than presenting a fair and honest account of international relations, much of Canada’s domestic reporting will continue to be tainted by outmoded sentiments or, at worse, a slide into outright Sinophobia.

Yves Engler has been dubbed “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left today” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I.F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), and “part of that rare but growing group of social critics unafraid to confront Canada’s self-satisfied myths” (Quill & Quire). He has published nine books.

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