Demonizing the Rising Dragon

In his article, “How Genuine Are NGOs?” Joseph Mudingu stated that NGOs “are the vehicles through which the exploiters seek to influence the opinions of ‘civil society’.” Thus it would not be surprising, given America’s pivot to Asia in response to its waning economic influence, that some NGOs would be prodded to excoriate a designated enemy — even though that enemy country does not surround other countries with its military bases, neither does it threaten violence nor militarily attack other countries; conversely, it seeks cooperation with other nations.

On 23 September, I received an email from Christina Smethurst, communications coordinator for a Victoria, BC-based NGO — Dogwood Initiative. In the email, besides the ubiquitous request for $50, she relates:

When the Chinese government first demanded an extradition treaty with Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau and his team said no. But China is a powerful country, and it is good at getting what it wants. [italics added; bold in original]

“[D]emanded”? Where does such an undiplomatic word derive from? The rest of the email is equally risible, replete with propaganda, disinformation, and with hardly any substantiation presented. Smethurst continues,

It now appears that in the months since the Chinese government first raised the issue of an extradition treaty, it has been applying behind the scenes pressure on the Liberal government

Even though China’s government has a terrible and worsening human rights record, even though the Chinese judicial system makes frequent use of the death penalty, and even though Chinese spies have been operating on Canadian soil to harass and round up dissidents through “Operation Fox Hunt”, Canada has now entered into negotiations on an extradition treaty with China.

It sounds an awful lot like throwing stones – a dangerous activity when one lives in a glasshouse. Considering that Canada is a country created through the ongoing genocide, dispossession, and woeful mistreatment of its Original Peoples, it has no moral basis from which to criticize other countries and their human rights record. As such, Dogwood ought to focus its criticism toward bettering the behavior of the Canadian state and that of Canadian allies.

Yes, China has a death penalty and that is deplorable but so does Canada’s closest ally the United States, and I am unaware of Dogwood ever having criticized the US for its death penalty, nor its myriad human rights abuses and war crimes – human rights abuses and war crimes that Canada is either an accomplice or partner in, as well as its own human rights abuses, such as over-incarceration of Indigenous peoples. ((See my “Land & Jail” series at The Dominion: “Ipperwash, official racism and the future of Ontario”; “Part II: Canada’s incarceration strategy”; “Part III: Challenging the disproportionate incarceration of First Nations in Canada.”))

As for Operation Fox Hunt, it is the Chinese government tracking down corrupt officials who have absconded with illicit money – something that should be applauded and something Canada should practice as well: cracking down seriously on corruption.

Writes Smethurst:

Well Trudeau and Chinese Premier Li did not publicly discuss pipelines when they met in Ottawa today, but trade negotiations have now begun, and we can guess what this means for the Chinese government’s pipeline demands.

Kim, with a decision on Kinder Morgan’s proposal due in December, we are working to make sure that it is British Columbians and Canadians who decide the future of our coast, not powerful foreign governments.

Chinese media paints a different picture — not one of demands being made to Canada. It talks of “broad common interests and sound cooperation.” It makes the point: “The development of the bilateral ties is in the interests of both Chinese and Canadian peoples as well as the world’s peace and stability.”

So why demonize China? Kinder Morgan is the American corporation – headquartered in Houston, Texas – that intends to construct the pipeline. Yet Dogwood concentrates it vitriol on China. The US and Kinder Morgan elude criticism; human rights abuses go unmentioned.

An earlier article at the Dogwood website had set the tone for Smethurst. It casts unsubstantiated aspersions and innuendo against China. Laura Benson, Dogwood’s director of organizing, is full of worry. Her writing borders on hysteria. She claims to be:

concerned about how Chinese government officials could wield their negotiating power in ways that have complex, long-lasting repercussions for both our countries. But most often, I find myself worrying about the people in my life who are deeply affected by the increasingly draconian reign of the current Chinese government….

I’m worried about the impact the Xi Jinping regime is having on the people I know and love.

I worry about my husband, [Jeremy Brown] who studies and teaches modern Chinese history at SFU, and worries every time he takes a research trip that it may finally be the time the government decides his topics are too controversial and bans him from the country.

I worry about my husband’s Chinese colleagues who face much harsher consequences – ruined livelihoods and reputations, families terrorized by state security, ritual public shaming of the type not seen since the Cultural Revolution, arrest – if their research runs afoul of government sensibilities or contradicts the state propaganda of the moment.

… our friends in China are living with more acute threats on a daily basis. They have to put air masks on their children to protect them from toxic pollution and are constantly calibrating the way they live their lives against the ideological winds of the current regime. Imagine having to decide if you dare to organize a protest when your music teacher disappears with all the money you paid for lessons because it might seem too threatening to local authorities and their informants? …

The ripple effects of authoritarian government and economic change in China are multiple and travel far.

On 3 September, I wrote an email to Benson. I asked if she had evidence to support her contention of “the increasingly draconian reign of the current Chinese government”?

If Benson had cared to check, China’s government fares favorably in public perception compared to other nations. Chairman Xi is abundantly clear that the support of the people is necessary in order to govern. ((See Xi Jinping, The Governance of China, (Foreign Languages Press, 2014) location 340, 2151, 2227.))

I asked her to provide one example to substantiate her worry about the Chinese state terrorizing families. Xi is committed to fighting miscarriages of justice ((Xi, loc 1370.)) and seeks a more open and fair justice system. ((Xi, loc 1628, 2339, 2335.))

I asked what her worry was on the “impact the Xi Jinping regime is having on the people [she] know[s] and love[s]”? This is after all the same Xi Jinping whose government is pledged to wipe out poverty in China by 2020. The dedication of China to eliminate poverty includes relocating over 9 million poor people. This hardly sounds like a state terrorizing families. Benson might better focus on homelessness in Dogwood’s home base of Victoria, a city which cleared out an overflowing tent city earlier this year.

Benson never deigned to reply to my email.

Benson might have heeded her colleague Kai Nagata who wrote earlier on 20 January:

Let’s curtail any accusations of Sinophobia, right here and now. My family was the victim of the same ‘yellow peril’ discourse that has simmered below the surface of B.C. politics for more than a century. This is not about racism toward Chinese people. This is about protecting our sovereignty – Canadian sovereignty, B.C. sovereignty and Indigenous sovereignty – from a powerful international trading partner.

What is the Dogwood Initiative?

Dogwood calls itself, “British Columbia’s largest nonpartisan citizen action network.” A Canadian Dimension article charged that the Dogwood Initiative is one of many NGOs under control of corporations for funding with the added criticism: “No first nations have been mentioned in their pronouncements.”

Dogwood provides a sketchy overview of its funding. However, it leaves many questions unanswered. For example, who receives grants and contracts and for what purpose are they received? How is Dogwood funding dispersed?

There are 23 listed Dogwood staff (see About page) working out of Victoria, Courtenay, and Burnaby. The annual expenditures on human resources in 2016 is $1,036,853. If divided up equally as salary that is over $45,000 per staff. Don Gordon, head of revenue for Dogwood, affirmed the figures but pointed out the present staff complement is 16 full-time and 3 part-time.

What about Smethurst and Benson’s Canadian state?

What about the destitution First Nations endure vis-a-vis the rest of Canada? What about 132 boil-water advisories in 92 First Nations (as of 31 July 2016) a situation that persists year after year. ((See “Watered Down Excuse” and “Boiling Point!.”)) Given the calamity over potable water in water-abundant Canada, the Indigenous resistance to protect the water against the Dakota Access pipeline is understandable.

First Nations are opposed to the Kinder Morgan pipeline (and the Northern Gateway pipeline). That should end the matter. They are the Original Peoples, if any project is to proceed on the land, then their approval is a sine qua non.

Before Kai Nagata’s Dogwood colleagues sling mud at the government of China, they ought to educate themselves on the facts, but — first and foremost — they ought to deal with the reprehensible state of affairs in their own backyard. The day Canada eliminates poverty or even commits itself to such a program; the day Canada stops joining in US-led aggressions against other states; the day Canada stops trying to foist pipelines on other countries (after all, the previous Conservative government pushed hard for the Keystone XL pipeline to bring Canadian bitumen to the US Gulf coast); the day Canada upholds its promises to the First Nations (who, if land ownership is to be instituted, constitute the rightful owners of the land); that day Canada upholds its commitments to the UNHDR; the day Canada comes clean and pure, then Dogwood might consider turning its sights elsewhere.

Consider that current Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau promised “nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations peoples, one that understands that the constitutionally guaranteed rights of First Nations in Canada are not an inconvenience but rather a sacred obligation.” Faced with a pan-First Nation opposition to the pipelines as well as the Site C dam in northeastern BC, and given his pledge to a greener Canada, why is Trudeau delaying? Promises are promises, just keep them. [UPDATE: Trudeau broke his promise and approved the Petronas project.]

The Master said, ‘At first my way with men was to hear their words, and give them credit for their conduct. Now my way is to hear their words, and look at their conduct.’
The Chinese Classics: Confucian Analects ((Project Gutenberg, location 287.))

In other words, actions speak louder than words. Trudeau’s lack of action to match his rhetoric, however, is speaking pitifully at present.

Dogwood ought to do its research, then compare Canadian and Chinese government plans and commitment to their implementation. The Chinese Communist Party with chairman Xi at the helm puts people first; ((Xi, loc 5049.)) it is aggressively tackling corruption; ((Xi, loc 153, 329, 1385.)) China is extremely polluted, but it is also dealing seriously with cleaning the environment, ((Xi, loc 1431, 2085, 3209, 3219,)) which it is forced to do; China seeks peace and is anti-hegemonic; it is socialist and is eradicating poverty; ((Xi, loc 2976.)) moreover, the Chinese Dream is not a self-absorbed national interest — it is to benefit other countries as well. ((Xi, loc 942, 2541, 4010, 4891.)) The Chinese Communist Party plan sounds like something to be encouraged rather than demonized.

Dogwood Initiative undermines its credibility by using disinformation to demonize China instead of focusing its blame on the corporation building the pipelines and the Canadian government which bears responsibility for approving any such pipeline project. China represents a potential customer and Dogwood should learn a thing or two about how customers should be treated.

Kim Petersen is an independent writer. He can be emailed at: kimohp at Read other articles by Kim.