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EDITORIAL | Beware, China Can Meddle in Elections in Any Democratic Country

In Canada’s elections, China was suspected of donating funds to friendly candidates and spreading false information online about potentially hostile ones.



Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with China's President Xi Jinping at the G20 Leaders' Summit in Bali, Indonesia, November 15, 2022. (© Adam Scotti/Prime Minister's Office/Handout via REUTERS.)

Along with freedom of speech, fair and free elections are the foundation for any democracy. China's interference, or attempts by anyone to pervert the integrity of any election, must not be tolerated.

The Canadian government must conduct a thorough investigation into allegations of meddling by China in its general elections. And it should without hesitation publish the results of that investigation.

For Japan, this is not a case of a fire on the farther shore. We must remain constantly vigilant that there are no possibilities of malicious involvement of foreign actors in such democratic exercises as elections or a referendum on the merits of amending the Constitution. Moreover, the government must take countermeasures as necessary.

Coordinated Influence Operations

According to reports carried by multiple media outlets in Canada, there are strong suspicions that diplomats and other Chinese living in Canada engaged in coordinated operations to influence public opinion during general elections in 2019 and 2021. 

Specifically, suspicions have surfaced that China sought the defeat of candidates in the now opposition Conservative Party. That is the party which is not favorably disposed towards the Chinese government. 

At the same time, there are allegations that Beijing sought to help multiple candidates perceived as friendly to China. They did this by donating campaign funds. But they also spread false information online about specific candidates they considered hostile to China in order to defeat them.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declares that the ruling Liberal Party has won the general election on October 22, 2019. (© Sankei by Mayu Uetsuka)

Trudeau Takes Action

Reacting to the reports, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that such aggressive interference by China would constitute an attack on core Canadian institutions. Furthermore, he ordered two separate investigations, the results of which are to be reviewed by a special rapporteur he will appoint. 

At the same time, the Trudeau government maintains that the results of the general elections were not impacted by foreign interference.

The crux of the matter is whether or not China actually attempted to interfere in the voting. Interference by a foreign country would be an extremely grave finding, regardless of whether it affected the election results in the end. Prime Minister Trudeau was correct when he declared that maintaining trust in democracy is paramount.

The Chinese government has categorically denied the reports. foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian even declared that China had "no interest" in interfering in Canada's elections. But we cannot take these denials at face value.

The Meng Wanzhou Affair

In 2018, at the request of the United States government, the Trudeau government took into custody Meng Wanzhou. She was the chief financial officer at Huawei Technologies Co, Ltd. After that, the state of Canada-China bilateral relations deteriorated seriously. It would not be surprising then if China had a desire to draw Canada to its side.

China has been constantly seeking to disseminate disinformation on Taiwan as part of its efforts to annex the island nation. Allegations have been reported of Chinese interference in past elections in Taiwan. Beijing did this through online efforts to sway public opinion and large amounts of indirect donations to pro-Beijing candidates.

Likewise, during the 2016 US presidential election, Russia engaged in "systematic interference" through such strategies as the diffusion of posts unfavorable to the Clinton campaign on social media sites. 

Russia and China are constantly hunting for opportunities to cause mischief in democratic societies. Japan and other democracies must share information and work together to respond to this ever-present threat. 


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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