As Canada attempts to counter Russian disinformation, experts call for similar effort against China

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Misinformation is not new. Ask the Trojans. Whispers and lies have always been as useful as clubs, swords and bullets when it comes to war.

Things are no different today, with the internet and social media amplifying and accelerating all forms of communication, including disinformation.

Canada is looking to bolster its defenses in this fight, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently announced that Ottawa will create a dedicated task force to counter Russian disinformation and propaganda.

“The Russian propaganda machine must answer for its lies. Canada is committed to countering disinformation where and when it is found. Today we make it clear to those who peddle deceit: you will be held accountable. Canada stands with Ukraine,” Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said in a statement in July.

Marcus Kolga of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute applauds the initiative.

Talk with The turntablethe foreign policy expert says the Russian government’s disinformation campaigns have become adept at identifying and exploiting contentious issues from both the far left and far right, and wrung those divisions to amplify narratives which intensify the polarization of our society.

“Over the past 24 months, we have seen Russian state media exploit environmental issues, Indigenous affairs, COVID and the war in Ukraine to divide Canadians,” Kolga said.

This should prove to be a popular initiative with Canadians. Public opinion on Russia deteriorated considerably following the invasion of Ukraine.

Russia is not the only bad actor to watch, however. Iranian and Chinese operations are also disrupting Canadian interests, Kolga says, but no similarly dedicated team has been put in place to counter them.

This is particularly troubling in the case of China, which has a disinformation program very generously funded by Chinese embassies and consulates across Canada, coordinated by the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department and headquartered is in Beijing, says the principal investigator of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. Charles Burton.

“Chinese leader Xi Jinping touts this move as one of the Chinese Communist Party’s ‘magic weapons’ of domestic and global manipulation,” Burton said. The turntable.

Burton says the disinformation program has been used to sabotage World Health Organization research into the origins of COVID-19, suppress the truth surrounding the genocide against the Uyghurs and distort Canada’s position on Taiwan by insinuating to wrong that Canada supports the PRC’s claim that Taiwan’s democratic government is an illegitimate rogue regime.

It has worked, Burton says, to convince influential Canadians to oppose legislation that threatens Beijing’s espionage efforts, including Canada’s security and technology partnerships with our allies.

The examples of interference from Beijing are global in scope and as numerous as they are troubling.

Campaigns of interference targeting our democracy should be particularly irritating to Canadians.

“In 2021, we observed Chinese state media directly targeting Canada’s federal election with misinformation about Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and his party’s foreign policy platform. While the impact of the Chinese government’s efforts on the election results cannot be precisely measured, its influence on the results also cannot be ruled out,” Kolga said.

O’Toole says that interference cost his party eight or nine seats, but Burton says the government has been reluctant to deal with China in an adversarial way.

“There is a consensus among the elites in Ottawa that the overriding priority of Canada-China relations must be the promotion of Canadian prosperity through trade and investment,” he said.

Additionally, fears of economic retaliation and coercion have spooked our well-connected elite who maintain lucrative relationships with Chinese state-owned enterprises, Burton says.

Recent reports indicate that there has even been hesitation to include the word “China” in the federal government’s upcoming new Indo-Pacific strategy.

As for what should be done, Burton argues that strong answers are needed.

“Canada must establish a well-funded unit to monitor Chinese-language media in Canada to identify Chinese state agents facilitating Beijing’s sophisticated fake propaganda operation to the vast numbers of Canadians who get their news from Chinese-language sources. The perpetrators of slander and defamation should be prosecuted in court in accordance with Canadian law,” he says.

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