Canadian Manufacturing

Federal research shows that Chinese government may have tried to influence Canadian election

The Canadian Press
   

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The analysts first noticed the narrative about the Conservatives in two articles published Sept. 8 by the Global Times, a state-owned media tabloid.

A federal research unit detected what might be a Chinese Communist Party information operation that aimed to discourage Canadians of Chinese heritage from voting for the Conservatives in the last federal election.

The Sept. 13, 2021, analysis by Rapid Response Mechanism Canada, which tracks foreign interference, says researchers observed Communist party media accounts on Chinese social media platform Douyin widely sharing a narrative that the Conservatives would all but sever diplomatic relations with Beijing.

The report, obtained by The Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act, was prepared just a week before Canadians went to the polls.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals emerged from the Sept. 20 national ballot with a renewed minority mandate, while the Conservatives, led by Erin O’Toole, formed the official Opposition.

O’Toole, who is no longer leader, claimed on a podcast recorded this month that the Conservatives lost eight or nine seats to foreign interference from China.

Rapid Response Mechanism Canada, based at Global Affairs Canada, produces open data analysis to chart trends, strategies and tactics in foreign interference.

Its work supports the G7 RRM, an initiative to strengthen co-ordination to identify and respond to threats to the major industrial democracies.

The analysis of messaging about the Conservative party was part of RRM Canada’s effort to monitor the digital information environment for signs of foreign state-sponsored information manipulation in the general election.

Conservative MP Michael Chong, the party’s foreign affairs critic, said in an interview the analysis is “another piece of evidence that the Communist leadership in Beijing interfered in the last general election by spreading disinformation.”

Asked to comment on the analysis, the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa said: “China has always adhered to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.”

RRM Canada says it manually reviewed Chinese social media platforms including WeChat, Douyin, Weibo, Xigua and Bilibili, and conducted open-source forensic digital analysis using website archives, social listening tools, and cross-platform social media ranking tools.

The analysts first noticed the narrative about the Conservatives in two articles published Sept. 8 by the Global Times, a state-owned media tabloid.

RRM Canada believes the Global Times coverage was prompted by a story in the Ottawa-based Hill Times newspaper that examined Canadian parties’ positions on Canada-China relations. The analysis says it is likely that the Global Times was the first Chinese publication to pick up on the Ottawa publication’s content, with its two articles getting over 100,000 page views apiece.

RRM Canada notes the timing coincided with the first federal leaders’ debate and increasingly close poll numbers. Similar pieces published by major Canadian media outlets earlier in September, as well as the Conservative party platform released in August, elicited no response from state-controlled media in China, the analysis says.

Several popular Canada-focused WeChat news accounts began engaging with the Global Times narrative on Sept. 9, copying the content and form without crediting the publication, “obscuring the narrative’s point of origin,” the analysts found.

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