A federal investigative unit has discovered what could be the Chinese Communist Party’s information operation aimed at discouraging Canadians of Chinese descent from voting for the Conservatives in the last federal election.
On September 13, 2021, an analysis by the Rapid Response Mechanism Canada, which tracks foreign intervention, found that Communist Party media accounts on the Chinese social media platform Duin widely shared that the Conservatives were severing diplomatic ties with Beijing.
The report, obtained by the Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act, was prepared a year before Canadians went to the polls.
Justin Trudeau’s Liberals stood with the minority mandate renewed from the September 20 national ballot, while the Conservatives, led by Erin O’Toole, formed the official opposition.
O’Toole, who is no longer the leader, claimed in a podcast recorded this month that the Conservatives lost eight or nine seats due to foreign intervention from China.
Rapid Response Mechanism Canada, based on Global Affairs Canada, produces open data analysis of chart trends, strategies and strategies in foreign intervention.
Its work supports the G7 RRM, an initiative to strengthen coordination to identify and respond to threats to major industrial democracies.
Analysis of the message about the Conservative Party was part of RRM Canada’s efforts to monitor the digital information environment for signs of foreign state-sponsored information manipulation in the general election.
Conservative MP Michael Chong, a critic of the party’s foreign affairs, said in an interview that “this is another piece of evidence that Beijing’s communist leadership interfered in the last general election by spreading false information.”
RRM Canada said it has manually reviewed Chinese social media platforms, including WeChat, Douyin, Weibo, Xigua and Bilibili, and conducted open source forensic digital analysis using website records, social listening devices, and cross-platform social media ranking tools. Is
Analysts first saw statements about the Conservatives in two articles published on September 8 by the state-owned media tabloid Global Times.
RRM Canada believes a story in the Ottawa-based Hill Times newspaper examining the position of Canadian parties in Canada-China relations has inspired global Times coverage. The analysis makes it possible that Global Times is the first Chinese publication to appear in the Ottawa publication’s content, with two articles each receiving 100,000 page views.
RRM Canada notes the timing of the first federal leaders’ debate and growing turnout. Similar pieces published by major Canadian media outlets in early September, as well as the Conservative Party platform released in August, received no response from state-controlled media in China, the analysis says.
Many popular Canada-based WeChat news accounts began engaging with the Global Times story on September 9, copying content and forms without crediting the publication, “obscuring the origin of the statement,” analysts found.
The accounts also added comments about the Tories in articles, such as “the Chinese are afraid of the platform,” and questioned whether “Chinese citizens should support the Conservatives if they use this rhetoric.”
“Unless otherwise credited, WeChat users will not know the story about the Conservatives and O’Toole originated from the Global Times and will consider the articles to be original reporting from Canadian WeChat accounts.”
Although many WeChat news accounts that serve Canadians have people registered in China and are well-established news sources, “some may have vague links to Chinese Communist Party media groups,” the analysis says.
Investigators were unable to determine whether there was coordination between CCP Media, which originally promoted the story, and popular WeChat news accounts serving Chinese-speaking Canadians that are now expanding the story, the September 13 analysis warns.
“RRM Canada is also unable to determine whether there was unauthorized activity to increase user engagement with the story as Chinese social media platforms are completely non-transparent.”
However, the Chinese version of TikTok, which has Communist Party media accounts in Douyin, published videos repeating the September 8 Global Times headline, according to the analysis. For example, the Duin account of China’s state-run Xinhua news agency shared a video of Conservative platforms referring to China “31 times” and an “expert” said the party “almost wants to sever diplomatic ties with China.”
The Chinese embassy in Ottawa did not respond to a request for comment on the RRM Canada analysis.
Among the conservative platform panels in the election campaign were those who advocated for Beijing on human rights issues, diversified the supply chain to move away from China, opposed the adoption of state-owned enterprises in Beijing and the acquisition of Canadian companies. Less global dependence on important minerals from China.
Chong says it is clear that the proxies were spreading false information on behalf of Beijing in the federal election.
“It is difficult to say whether this is the reason for the loss of some Conservative MPs. But I think we can safely say that it was a contributing factor.
If Beijing reaches such a conclusion, China could be “excited to do a great deal in future federal elections, undermining our democratic process,” Chong said.
Under a federal protocol, there would be a public announcement if a panel of senior officials determined that the incident – or accumulation of events – threatened Canada’s ability to hold free and fair elections. No such announcement was made last year.
At a meeting of the House of Commons committee earlier this month, Public Safety Secretary Bill Blair said during the election campaign that “we have all heard anecdotes and various opinions.” Evidence of foreign interference in the campaign has been given.
Deputy Secretary of State Rob Stewart told the meeting that “as you might expect” there are activities on social media that seek to influence distorted information and votes. “There was no threat to the overall integrity of the election.”
The Canadian election misinformation project, which brought together many academic researchers, found Chinese officials and state media commenting on the election with clear intent to persuade Canadians of Chinese descent to vote against the Conservative Party in 2021.
“Some candidates’ misinformation and information spread critically on Chinese-language social media platforms. However, we found no evidence that Chinese interference had a significant impact on the overall election.”
The Conservatives could “do a good job” of resisting such messages, Chong said. “Obviously we didn’t, and that’s a lesson.”
Still, the federal government needs to actively resist foreign distortions between election campaigns, Chong said. During the campaign, the government should immediately analyze the rapid response mechanism and make it available to the public, he said.
Fen Hampson, a professor of international affairs at Carlton University who looks closely at China, agrees that more transparency would be beneficial.
He argues for broadening the analytical process, perhaps by establishing a center involving non-government players, gathering information from various sources and explicitly publishing reports on foreign interference.
“It takes it out of the domestic political arena, which is always charged high.”
This report was first published on June 23, 2022 by the Canadian Press.