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Federally funded Canadian group used by China to spread propaganda on Uyghurs, report finds

Two groups in Canada have consistently promoted Beijing’s talking points on the Xinjiang region in the face of growing evidence of mass human rights abuses.

Two Canadian community organizations have been receiving thousands of dollars of funding from the federal government to pump out propaganda trying to shape public opinion about human rights abuses in Xinjiang province says a new report by Australian academics.

Xinjiang Association of Canada and the Ontario-based Council of Newcomer Organizations were among some of the organizations looked at in the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Cultivating Friendly Forces report.

The Xinjiang Association of Canada is a corporate member of the Council of Newcomer
Organizations (加拿大华人同乡会联合总会), which is an umbrella organisation of more than 20
Chinese hometown associations in Canada, and was co-founded by former Liberal MP Geng Tan according to the National Post.

The groups have been supported by China’s diplomatic missions in Canada, while at least two of their directors were invited to attend events in China as privileged “overseas Chinese” leaders, says the report, based mostly on Chinese-language media reports and other open source material from the internet.

Such groups “can sow distrust and fear in the community, mislead politicians, journalists and the public, influence government policies, cloud our assessment of the situation in Xinjiang and disguise the CCP’s interference in foreign countries.”

“The CCP (Chinese Communist Party) uses these organs as conduits for the spread of propaganda about the ‘harmony, prosperity and happiness’ of people in Xinjiang while deflecting and denying international criticism of its well-documented human rights abuses in the region,” the analysis charges.

The report calls for increased efforts from the government, academics, and media to expose the Chinese government’s world wide interference, especially through the use of efficient foreign-influence registries.

Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang have been subjected to large scale repression, including forced labour, mass sterilization, and re-education camps that are thought to house more than a million people, according to human rights organizations, media sources, and the United Nations.

China has been accused of committing genocide by the Canadian parliament, the United States, and other nations. Beijing has refuted these accusations and maintains that it is only bringing peace to an area that has been plagued by unrest and terrorism.

The research details China’s efforts to counter the allegations, including its employment of local community organizations that claim to speak for immigrants from Xinjiang or that just further Beijing’s position on the issue. The United Front Work Department, a party division tasked with expanding China’s influence abroad, is said to be leading the initiative.

The 12-year-old Xinjiang Association of Canada is cited in the study as an illustration of connections between such organizations and China’s colonial activities in the area.

The general consul and other Chinese diplomats in Toronto were present for its introduction. It is primarily composed of Han Chinese, the majority ethnic group in the country. The association invites local politicians and consular officials to events honouring Han and Uyghur festivals, “then uses these public events to present a harmonious picture of Xinjiang and its diasporic population,” the working paper says.

Last year, the council denounced the House of Commons’ motion on the Xinjiang genocide, claiming it was based on “unsubstantiated rumours.”

“The council’s statement was then reported by China’s state media to prove that members of the Chinese diaspora disagree with the Canadian parliament’s decision,” noted the report.

The council received at least $160,000 in funding from different federal government departments by the end of last year, the most recent being for an elder abuse program.

Academic efforts to examine Beijing’s efforts to influence foreign policy have mostly been led by Australian and New Zealand experts like Leibold. But as much of the material that was once readily available online is disappearing, the process is getting harder, he said. In fact, the detailed website for the Council of Newcomer’s Organizations is no longer available.

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