(TibetanReview.net, Feb17’19) – China has expressed support for its students in Canada who issued threats of vile physical assault and hurled racist taunts on a 22-year-old fellow-student of Tibetan ethnicity who won the election as the president of the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus Student Union while officially denying having directed the campaign. It has also spoken similarly on an Uyghur activist’s talk in another university in Canada.
Since her victory less than a week ago, Chemi Lhamo says she has been the target of fervent anti-Tibet harassment online — something at least one former intelligence officer says is a tactic consistent with China’s strategy of undermining political dissent, reported cbc.ca Feb 15.
China’s Consulate General in Toronto claimed in a statement Feb 15 that it only learned of the online attacks against Lhamo from the media. Nevertheless, the statement expressed support for the Chinese students’ action, saying, “It is believed that this is an entirely spontaneous action of those Chinese students based on objective facts and patriotic enthusiasm.”
The statement reiterated what some of the attacking Chinese students had said in the all too familiar language of their government’s propaganda rhetoric. “The Chinese government firmly opposes anti-China separatist activities by ‘Tibet independence’ activists who are plotting to split Tibet from China [and] the move of any country or organization to provide support or convenience of any kind to ‘Tibet independence’ activities.”
The report noted that there was also a message on the Chinese mobile service WeChat making the rounds, calling on Chinese international students to stop Lhamo from becoming president.
The backlash against Lhamo was stated to be one of two recent episodes that had prompted concerns about possible Chinese government influence in campus politics in Canada.
Lhamo has said she won’t be affected by the campaign of hatred directed at her, saying, “This isn’t just about me; it’s about the Chinese government’s infiltration of Canadian universities.”
And she hoped “this incident will make more people aware of freedom and democracy.”
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The other incident took place at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, where a presentation by an activist critical of the Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghurs was disrupted earlier this week.
The university has said it was looking into what happened, expressing concerned over possible surveillance of students. “We are concerned if anyone felt they would be under surveillance while attending an event on campus. This would not be in keeping with our principles of free speech and respectful dialogue that we uphold at McMaster,” another cbc.ca report Feb 15 quoted University spokesperson Gord Arbeau as saying.
But Uyghur activist Rukiye Turdush, the target of the attack, pointed out that the students who filmed and shouted during her talk did so under the direction of the Chinese government.
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The Chinese embassy in Canada has also issued a statement on both the incidents, denying any involvement but strongly encouraging such action.
“We strongly support the just and patriotic actions of Chinese students. Safeguarding sovereignty and opposing separatism are the common positions of the international community, and they are also the positions the Canadian government upholds,” China’s official globaltimes.cn Feb 16 quoted the Chinese Embassy in Canada spokesperson as saying.
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“Chinese interference among Chinese student groups has been noted for some time,” David Mulroney, Canada’s former ambassador to China from 2009 to 2012, was quoted as saying.
He has noted that students had been reporting for years that Chinese diplomats were “overly interested” in what was going on in western schools.
“If you take a position in the classroom on a political issue that has relevance to China, other students may report you to the consulate, your scholarship may be in trouble, your family may feel pressure,” he has said.
Meanwhile, an independent group of overseas Chinese students, The Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars in USA, has hit out at Communist Party-backed student groups on overseas campuses, following the reports on the two recent incidents. The group has said it was “deeply concerned” about the reports, noting it had noted such incidents of coordinated targeting of activists campaigning against China’s treatment of ethnic minorities in United States, Canada, France, Ireland, and the Netherlands, reported the Mandarin Service of rfa.org Feb 16.