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IN-DEPTH: Why Does Communist China Need Over 170 Diplomats in Canada?

The Chinese Consulate in Calgary in a file photo. (The Epoch Times)

Opposition MPs are asking why the Chinese diplomat recently expelled for being involved in threatening an MP’s family wasn’t removed sooner after it emerged that Canada’s intelligence agency knew for several years that he was spying on Falun Gong adherents and Uyghurs in Canada.

As of the time of this writing, there are 177 Chinese diplomats in Canada, including their representatives to the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal. This is second only to the United States, Canada’s closest ally and neighbour to the south, with 291 diplomats. The country with the third-highest number of diplomats in Canada is Japan, with 80 diplomats.

The Chinese regime surpassed the United States in 2019 on having the highest number of diplomatic posts abroad. As of 2021, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had 275 embassies, consulates, and other representations around the world, according to the latest data from the Lowy Institute‘s Global Diplomacy Index. The United States had 267, and Canada 143.

Dan Stanton, a former executive manager with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), says it’s not unusual to have such a high representation of Chinese diplomats if the level of engagement such as trade warrants a massive establishment.

“My concern would be what percentage are involved in foreign interference activity, or even espionage,” Stanton said.

Chen Yonglin, a former high-ranking official at the Chinese Consulate in Sydney, Australia, who defected in 2005, says he knows first-hand that a major function of Chinese consulates is to harass the diaspora and carry out interference activities in the host country.

“There are too many of them, and they are too active, with huge budgets for these [purposes],” Chen told The Epoch Times.

How Consulates Are Set Up

Besides consular services such as visa processing and assistance and protection sections, Chinese embassies and consulates typically have sections responsible for Political Affairs, Overseas Chinese Affairs, Economic and Commercial Affairs, Science and Technology, Education, and Culture. The embassy also has a formal military attaché.

In addition to a consul general, each consulate typically has two vice consul generals. Chen says one of the two is a career diplomat from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, while the other is from the Ministry of State Security (MSS), China’s intelligence agency.

Epoch Times Photo The Chinese Consulate in Vancouver in a file photo. (Melodie Von/NTD)

“They call it counter-espionage, monitoring the staff. But they also work to coordinate other actions for MSS, such as running surveillance on a particular target,” he says.

Besides a military attaché at embassies, Chen says there may be other People’s Liberation Army representatives at consulates under disguise, such as being assigned to the commercial affairs office and hidden even from the other consulate staff. But the staff usually get a sense of who they are over time because of clues such as their budget being in cash, he says.

Targeting the ‘Six Groups’

The Political Affairs section is the one in charge of bilateral relations between China and the host country.

Although bilateral relations concern the host country’s capital city, where the central government and embassies are located, Chinese consulates, which are in other cities, usually have this office as well.

“Consulates originally were set up for the issuance of visas, reporting back on lost passports, and things like that. And it does seem a little funny [for consulates to have the] political affairs responsibilities,” Stanton said. “But I guess it’s how they view everything. Maybe every contact with a Canadian entity, they probably see there is a political aspect to it for the PRC [People’s Republic of China].”

According to Chen, the Political Affairs office is also entrusted with one of the highest priorities of the CCP: dealing with the “six groups.” The term refers to the groups and entities that the CCP has targeted for eradication or full control, including Falun Gong adherents, Uyghur Muslims, Tibetans, democracy activists, Taiwan activists, and Hong Kong activists.

A recent Globe and Mail report citing a national security source said that Zhao Wei, the diplomat Canada recently expelled, was keeping tabs on the targeted groups in the Greater Toronto Area, including Falun Gong adherents, Uyghur human rights activists, Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, and supporters of Tibetan and Taiwanese independence.

Zhao was declared persona non grata on May 8 for threatening the family of Conservative MP Michael Chong in Hong Kong after Chong sponsored a House of Commons motion in 2021 to declare China’s persecution of Uyghurs an act of genocide.

Based on this, Chen suspects that Zhao was involved in the political affairs office.

Interference Operations

Chen says the Overseas Chinese Affairs section is the one in charge of “non-governmental diplomacy.” This follows in the legacy of “ping-pong diplomacy” that resulted in a turning point in U.S.-PRC relations in the 1970s, and includes activities such as entertainment events to advance CCP propaganda, he says.

Chen Yonglin, a former Chinese diplomat who defected to Australia. Chen Yonglin, a former Chinese diplomat who defected to Australia in 2005, speaks at a Sydney rally in 2015.  (Shar Adams/The Epoch Times)

This section is also part of the CCP’s United Front Work Department, Chen says. “The intention is to interfere in the internal affairs of Canada.”

The United Front is the CCP’s primary foreign interference tool, according to research cited by Public Safety Canada.

Anne-Marie Brady, a political science professor at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, says the United Front uses groups and prominent individuals in society, focuses on managing information and propaganda, and can also be used for facilitating espionage.

“CCP United Front officials and their agents try to develop relationships with foreign and overseas Chinese personages (the more influential the better) to influence, subvert, and if necessary, bypass the policies of their governments and promote the interests of the CCP globally,” Brady wrote in a 2017 paper.

One of the primary focuses of the United Front is to influence the overseas Chinese population in order to advance the CCP’s interests abroad.

“Chinese consulates and embassies relay instructions to Chinese community groups and the Chinese-language media, and they host visits of high-level CCP delegations coming to meet with local overseas Chinese groups,” Brady said.

“The leaders of the various China-connected overseas Chinese associations in each country are regularly invited to China to update them on current government policies.”

Education, Culture, and Trade Secrets

Chen says other sections of Chinese diplomatic missions are gaining more importance for the CCP as well, such as the Education section, as more Chinese students come to Canada.

One of the primary means of the consulates’ control of students is through the use of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association. This organization is found in most Canadian universities. The chapter at the University of Toronto, for example, directly says that it was founded with the support of the Chinese Consulate.

The other focus of the Education section, Chen says, is the CCP’s Confucius Institutes, hosted by some Canadian educational institutions.

He adds that the Culture section, under the direction of the CCP’s Ministry of Culture, is in charge of promoting CCP propaganda, while the Science and Technology section typically monitors developments in research, often with an eye for technological espionage.

‘Interfering in Canadian Politics’

Chen says it should be obvious that many of China’s diplomats aren’t engaged in legitimate diplomatic activities, and that the size of China’s diplomatic mission in Canada should be significantly curtailed.

“They don’t need the Overseas Chinese Affairs office, which is working with the United Front organization and propaganda, nourishing Chinese spies. All the diplomats working in this section should be expelled,” he says.

Similarly, Canada should refuse to accept any replacement for the expelled diplomat Zhao Wei, since he was in charge of harassing the diaspora in Canada, Chen says.

The same goes for other diplomats in the Political Affairs office in consulates, he says, which even on the surface don’t seem to have a legitimate case, as political engagements should happen in the host nation’s capital. Even in Ottawa, he says, just a couple of people should be enough in this office to carry out tasks related to bilateral relations, and most of the others should be removed.

“Political Affairs in consulates goes against the Vienna Convention, because the Consular Services section is already providing the needed services, as are the Commercial Affairs and Consular Protection sections,” he says. The 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations sets out the rules of diplomatic law, including that diplomats must respect the laws of the host state.

Epoch Times Photo The Chinese embassy in Ottawa in a file photo. (The Epoch Tiems)

“The Political Affairs section is interfering in Canadian politics, such as bribing politicians or threatening Canadian MPs—that’s their job,” Chen said.

He says the same applies to the other sections, such as the Education section, since their sole purpose is to interfere in Canada.

“There’s not that much government business in education. Their main job is students and Confucius Institutes. Besides that, they don’t have anything else to do. They interfere with universities’ academic independence and run spy networks,” Chen says.

He adds that Canada should also expel the vice consul general who is from the MSS, as well as other diplomats who have military background, because China already has a formal military attaché in Ottawa.

“China’s diplomats should be limited, because they’ve been causing trouble.”

‘Purely Reactive’

According to Chen, the CCP’s international diplomacy is an extension of its domestic system, which works to try and cover up the fact that the regime is not a legitimate government since it wasn’t elected by the popular vote.

“International recognition is vital for them, so they spend huge money on their dollar diplomacy,” he says, adding as an example the CCP’s major expenditures in developing countries in Africa.

“Their overseas diplomacy focuses on politics to help the CCP stay in power.”

According to Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, Canada denied a visa to a Chinese representative in March because the person was a “political operative.” She said it’s easier to prevent entry in the first place than to later expel a diplomat.

Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said Canada quietly expelled a Chinese diplomat in 2010 because of spying allegations, the Globe and Mail reported.

Before that, in 2006, Ottawa expelled a diplomat for collecting information on Falun Gong adherents in Canada and inciting Chinese international students to help him in the efforts, The Epoch Times reported at the time.

Stanton says he is not surprised that Canada hasn’t been expelling any diplomats in recent years, because Canada doesn’t really have a realistic China policy.

“What we are seeing is a purely reactive foreign policy being challenged by leaks to the media,” he said.

“Perhaps they [Beijing] are more brazen and bolder because there haven’t been any concrete consequences to undiplomatic activity.”