PHOTO BY THE CANADIAN PRESS/JUSTIN TANG
We should not be funding groups acting as a mouthpiece for Beijing,’ says Conservative MP Michael Chong
A prominent Canadian advocate for the Uyghur people noted that his own group has sought for years to obtain Ottawa’s financial help, with no success.
The House of Commons motion labeling treatment of the Uyghurs as genocide was the result of MPs’ “ignorance and prejudice” toward China and could cause “far-reaching” damage to bilateral relations, the Toronto-based council charged in the statement posted on Chinese-language websites.
In August 2019, the group co-founded by former Liberal MP Geng Tan published an advertisement that harshly criticized pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, suggesting they were colluding with foreign powers.
Seven months later, in March 2020, the umbrella group for 29 Chinese-Canadian associations received the latest of its federal grants — $25,000 from Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) for an elder-abuse program.
By comparison, Mehmet Tohti said he’s aware of no Canadian group fighting for human rights in China that has received financial support from Ottawa.
“It is kind of shocking,” he said of the CONCO situation. “They have freedom to express their opinion, whether they support the talking points of the Communist Party or not. The problem is they cannot do that with my tax money. Why should I support with my tax dollars their propaganda?”
Neither the council nor ESDC, asked about the issue Monday morning, was able to provide comment to National Post by deadline.
CONCO’s mission statement says it is dedicated to integrating new immigrants, helping young people and giving the elderly more “care and warmth.” But in August 2019 it published an ad that dismissed the massive Hong Kong protests as a foreign-incited assault by extremists on the city’s stability, much as the demonstrations were characterized by China itself.
That same year, its then-president, Zhu Jiang, attended celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, invited by China’s Toronto consulate and the Xinjiang branch of the Untied Front Work Department, according to the Super Life news site. The United Front is a major branch of the Communist party tasked with extending Chinese influence worldwide. Xinjiang is the province where most Uyghurs live.
One of CONCO’s major supporters is Hong Wei “Winnie” Liao, also known as Liao Zi Wei, a prominent Toronto-area businesswoman with connections to both Canadian politicians and Chinese diplomats. Liao’s company Respon International Group was the title sponsor of the council’s annual Chinese New Year festival in 2019. Liao’s daughter and the daughter’s boyfriend were recently charged with murdering a man in Hamilton, Ont.
Conservative MP Michael Chong’s Uyghur-genocide motion was passed by the Commons 266-0, with many Liberals voting in favour but cabinet members either staying away or abstaining.
Federally funded groups should be free to criticize anyone they want, said Chong, the son of a Hong Kong immigrant himself. But giving grants to CONCO shows how the government is “willfully naïve” about China’s influence campaign, he charged in an interview Monday.
“It’s clear from the evidence that the leadership of this group is acting as proxies for Beijing’s consulates and missions here in Canada,” said the member for Ontario’s Wellington-Halton Hills riding. “We should not be funding groups acting as a mouthpiece for Beijing.”
Human-rights organization, independent researchers and journalists have documented a mass campaign of repression against the Uyghurs, including indoctrination camps believed to hold a million or more members of the minority, systematic rape, and forced birth control and sterilization.
Chong’s motion said what’s happening meets the United Nations definition of genocide and urged the International Olympic Committee to move the 2022 Winter Games from Beijing.
Similar to China’s response, CONCO’s statement said the motion was based on “unsubstantiated rumours” and complained that “some Canadian politicians blindly joined in because of their ignorance and prejudice against China.”