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Michael Chong (centre) appears before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China in Washington on Sept.12.James McCarten/The Canadian Press

Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong and members of the U.S. Congress united Tuesday in calling on Ottawa and Washington to “name and shame” China’s authoritarian leaders as part of a co-ordinated response to Beijing’s efforts to interfere in Western democracies and bully diaspora communities.

Mr. Chong, a target of Chinese government interference, received a rare invitation to speak to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, an 18-person panel of senators and members of the House of Representatives that monitors human-rights abuses in China and is examining Beijing’s global repression campaign.

The MP was warmly welcomed by members of the bipartisan commission who applauded him for his strong stand against Beijing’s human-rights abuses despite two known attempts by China to target him and his family members in Hong Kong.

Democratic Senator Jeffrey Merkley, co-chair of the commission, called the “egregious harassment” campaign against Mr. Chong unacceptable. He said he wants to see tougher measures from democracies to counter China’s targeting of critics of the Chinese Communist Party and its authoritarian leaders.

“We should also go on the offence and let the Chinese people know how corrupt their leaders are. They are all very rich because they steal from their people,” Republican Senator Dan Sullivan said. “You want to mess with us? Okay, we will mess with you and maybe we can bring their leadership down. Don’t you think we should be doing that?”

Mr. Chong, who proposed a series of measures that Canada and the U.S. could enact, agreed that Western democracies need to be much tougher with Beijing to blunt its global campaign to silence critics and expand its authoritarian model to other parts of the world.

“By naming and shaming bad actors, by using intelligence and making some of that public to name and shame bad actors, I think would go a long way to counter this threat,” he told the panel.

The veteran MP told the members of Congress that the West should be funding efforts to help people in China break through internet controls – the Great Firewall of China – to communicate freely with the rest of the world. He cited virtual private networks, often used in authoritarian states, as one example where Canada and the U.S. could devote funding.

He told Congress that Canada and the U.S. could emulate Taiwan’s efforts to fight Beijing’s disinformation. Under Taipei’s “222 Principle,” government officials must issue a social-media response to disinformation within two hours, using 200 words of text and two images – a format that makes it easily shareable online.

The office of Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc was asked to comment on the specific measures proposed by Mr. Chong and U.S. lawmakers.

Communications director Kelly Ouimet said the Liberal government has put in place “robust” measures to protect Canadian democracy, pointing to election-monitoring bodies and the recent launch of a public inquiry into foreign interference after pressure from opposition parties.

“Canada’s democracy is one of the strongest in the world – and we will ensure it remains so,” Ms. Ouimet said.

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Michael Chong arrives to a standing committee on foreign affairs and international development in Ottawa on May 4, 2023. The Conservative MP at the centre of Canada’s foreign interference saga is telling his story today to U.S. lawmakers on Capitol Hill.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

In his testimony, Mr. Chong explained how international students from China living in Canada are coerced into spying on fellow students or pressuring Canadian-based activists. “It’s a pervasive threat on university campuses.”

He warned that Beijing has created “wanted lists” and offered bounties against critics of the Communist regime living in Canada, set up illegal police stations in several Canadian cities and used Chinese-language media and social media to mount disinformation campaigns. He recounted how a former editor of Sing Tao Daily, Victor Ho, said that “the newspaper is largely now a vehicle for Chinese Communist Party propaganda and views.”

“These various tactics are a serious and concerted effort to interfere with democratic activity in Canada, and leave millions of Canadians at risk of being intimidated, coerced, silenced and unable to enjoy the basic democratic rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” Mr. Chong said. “These tactics cannot be tolerated in a free and sovereign country.

Mr. Chong recalled for the congressional commission two known instances where China had targeted him because of his outspoken criticism of Beijing’s brutal treatment of its Muslim Uyghur minorities and crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

In May, he learned from The Globe and Mail that Beijing targeted him and his relatives in Hong Kong in the lead-up to the 2021 election, a revelation that led the federal government to expel a Chinese diplomat behind the effort. In July, the government informed Mr. Chong that he was almost certainly the target of a second disinformation campaign orchestrated by Beijing in May of this year, at the same time Ottawa was expelling Toronto-based diplomat Zhao Wei.

The government later disclosed that former Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole and NDP MP Jenny Kwan had also been targeted by Beijing in 2021 – and that they remain targets.

“My experience is but one case of Beijing’s interference in Canada. Many, many other cases go unreported, the victims suffer in silence,” Mr. Chong told the commission. “This has serious implications for the approximate 4 per cent of Canadians of Chinese descent.”

Tuesday’s congressional hearings, in which Democrats and Republicans echoed their concerns about China interference in Western democracies, were in stark contrast to parliamentary hearings on China’s interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections. Those hearings were stymied by Liberal MPs and the government who resisted opposition calls to see classified documents on the extent of Chinese government electoral interference.

In his testimony Tuesday, Mr. Chong urged the Canadian government to work closely with the United States and other democracies to counter China’s efforts to interfere in elections and harass diaspora communities and critics of the regime. He urged Ottawa to set up its promised foreign-agent registry, similar to those already in place in the U.S., Australia and Britain.

“We must look for every opportunity to strengthen this partnership to meet the challenges of rising authoritarianism and to preserve our fundamental freedoms, democratic institutions and the rules-based international order,” he said.

Last week, the minority Liberal government reached an agreement with opposition parties on the terms and timing of the long-awaited public inquiry, headed by Quebec Court of Appeal Justice Marie-Josée Hogue. For months, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had resisted repeated calls, including three votes in the House of Commons, to set up a foreign-interference inquiry.

Many of the congressional leaders, including Republican chair and New Jersey representative Chris Smith, applauded Mr. Chong, saying “although Michael has been harassed he has not been in any way, shape or form been intimidated.

Uzra Zeya, the U.S. under secretary of state for civilian security, democracy and human rights, also spoke to the commission, accusing Beijing of misusing international law, such as Interpol and pressure on other governments, to “forcibly return targeted individuals to the PRC.”

“The sheer breadth and depth of their efforts cannot be ignored and should not be permitted to continue. It is a direct threat to national sovereignty and impacts people all over the world,” she said.

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