Justin Trudeau’s Canadian publisher struck a deal in the first year after the Liberal government took office for a Chinese state-owned publishing house to republish the prime minister’s memoir, Common Ground, for Chinese readers under a new title: The Legend Continues.
The Chinese translation, with a title alluding to Mr. Trudeau as prime minister following in the footsteps of his father, Pierre, who first launched relations with Communist-led China, came in 2016, as Beijing was coaxing Canada to deepen its relationship with China in ways such as a free-trade deal.
Former senior foreign policy and security advisers to the prime minister say they were not consulted on this arrangement, and would have advised Mr. Trudeau to reject a deal with a publisher that reports to the local Chinese Communist Party.
Mr. Trudeau’s book was released in English as Common Ground in 2014, while he was still on the opposition benches. Yilin Press of Nanjing, China, which is owned by Jiangsu Phoenix Publishing and Media, a state-owned enterprise that takes operational direction from the propaganda department of the Jiangsu provincial Communist Party committee, republished it in Chinese.
China’s book industry is controlled by the government, with 582 authorized publishers.
Promotional material for The Legend Continues included a thumbs-up review from Luo Zhaohui, then Chinese ambassador to Canada. Mr. Luo, it said, “strongly recommends” the book. Since leaving his envoy post in Canada in 2016, Mr. Luo has been promoted to a vice-minister of foreign affairs in the Chinese government, and recently was named chairman of the China International Development Co-operation Agency.
China experts call the republication of Mr. Trudeau’s book a classic ploy by Beijing to curry favour with foreign leaders.
The marketing copy lauded the prime minister as inheriting “his father’s outstanding charisma and leadership qualities.” It added that “because of his handsome appearance, he was praised as the ‘Hollywood face.’” The promotional blurb for the book in China noted that early in Mr. Trudeau’s first mandate, he signed up Canada for the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a development that happened over the objections of the United States. “Trudeau fever,” the book’s promotional material said, has “spread to China.”
The book was released in China around the same time Chinese billionaires were donating money to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, and Beijing-connected businessmen were paying to attend Liberal cash-for-access fundraisers with Mr. Trudeau.
Richard Fadden, who was Mr. Trudeau’s national security adviser until March, 2016, and is a former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said he had no idea the book was republished in China until contacted by The Globe and Mail. He said he would have strongly recommended against it.
“Clearly it was undertaken [without consulting advisers], and when you deal with a state like China and you are the prime minister, I don’t think it is a good idea,” he said. “They are trying to do anything they can to encourage him to look positive on China and the Chinese state, which from their perspective makes perfect sense. It is costing them absolutely nothing.”
Mr. Fadden said it’s one thing to have the book published in Western countries, but quite another for it to be handled by a Chinese propaganda ministry. “I think what gets me is that this is all being sponsored by the propaganda department,” he said.
Guy Saint-Jacques, who was Canada’s ambassador from 2012 to 2016, said he was also unaware a publisher in China bought the rights to the book, and would have advised against it.
“Clearly, by publishing his biography they wanted to please him. They are the masters of propaganda,” Mr. Saint-Jacques said.
If asked, he said, he would have told Mr. Trudeau’s team the book deal was part of a strategy by the Chinese to woo foreign leaders.
In 2016, Mr. Saint-Jacques said, Beijing had high hopes it could persuade Canada to sign a free-trade agreement and was seeking Canada’s help in its global campaign Operation Fox Hunt to track down people it called criminals, many of whom were Chinese dissidents.
Operation Fox Hunt was ostensibly launched as an anti-corruption campaign by President Xi Jinping that targeted wealthy citizens and corrupt Communist Party members who had fled overseas with large amounts of money.
FBI director Christopher Wray said in July, 2020, that Operation Fox Hunt’s principal aim now is to suppress dissent among the Chinese diaspora.
Roland Paris, who was foreign policy adviser to Mr. Trudeau until June, 2016, said he could not recall being consulted on the Chinese book deal. Mr. Paris, a professor of international affairs at the University of Ottawa, said he is not sure what he would have recommended.
The Liberal campaign team did not respond to questions about why Mr. Trudeau consented to the book deal or whether he was concerned Beijing was trying to flatter him.
Campaign spokesman Alexandre Deslongchamps said in a statement that Mr. Trudeau personally took no income from the memoir, which he said was translated into many languages and sold around the world.
“All proceeds from the book, including internationally, go to the Canadian Red Cross. Royalties, including their donations, are managed by HarperCollins and the literary agent,” he said, adding that Mr. Trudeau did not claim a tax credit. The contract with Yilin and HarperCollins was a “one-time advance and no royalties,” he said. The party would not discuss how much money Yilin paid for the rights to the book.
The Liberal spokesperson said that Yilin has published books by other prominent politicians, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
The New York Times reported in 2014 that while Yilin published Ms. Clinton’s 2003 book, Living History, it was recalled because criticism of China’s policies and the Communist Party was removed without permission.
Yilin did not publish Ms. Clinton’s 2014 memoir, Hard Choices, which devoted significant attention to discussions with Chinese officials on matters such as human rights, including her intervention to rescue a Chinese dissident. The publishing house told The New York Times in 2014 that “some of the content was not suitable.”
HarperCollins Canada would not discuss the deal for the Chinese publication of the book or whether any money went to Mr. Trudeau’s private holding company, which is in a blind trust.
“I’m afraid these things are confidential business terms that are not typically discussed with third parties,” HarperCollins editor Jennifer Lambert said in an e-mail.
The Red Cross also declined to answer questions about whether proceeds from The Legend Continues were donated to the organization and how much this amounted to, saying in a statement that it “respects the privacy of our donors, and we do not disclose the details of any contributions or donations received.”
Yu Mei, the Yilin Press editor who handled The Legend Continues, was initially open to discussing the publishing arrangement, but later refused to answer questions about the advance or how many books were sold after she “checked with my colleagues.”
“The copyright of this book is no longer with our agency. So, I’m not doing any interview or providing answers,” she said.
When the book was published in China, the Liberal Party was employing an under-the-radar strategy that generated tens of thousands of dollars from private cash-for-access events at the homes of wealthy Chinese-Canadians that provided intimate face time with the prime minister.
Some of the guests and hosts at the fundraisers were well connected to China’s ruling Communist Party.
Chinese billionaire and Communist Party official Zhang Bin attended a May 19, 2016, fundraiser at the home of Benson Wong, chair of the Chinese Business Chamber of Canada. A few weeks later, Mr. Zhang and his business partner, Niu Gensheng, donated $200,000 to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and $50,000 to erect a statue of Mr. Trudeau’s father.
Mr. Zhang is a political adviser to the Chinese government in Beijing and a senior apparatchik in the network of the state’s promotional activities around the world.
After The Globe’s coverage of the cash-for-access events, the Trudeau government passed legislation that requires such political events to be transparent, open to public scrutiny and reported to Canadians.
China’s relations with Canada went into the deep freeze after the RCMP detained Huawei Technologies senior executive Meng Wanzhou on an extradition request for alleged bank fraud relating to violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran. Beijing retaliated by charging Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig with espionage. They are in prisons with the lights on 24-7.
While Mr. Trudeau has accused Beijing of hostage diplomacy, he and his ministers abstained when Parliament voted earlier this year on a motion saying China is committing genocide against its Muslim minorities.
With a report from Alexandra Li
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