by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: 金宏/YouTube

THOUGH NOT widely reported on, concerns have broken out that China may be attempting to prop up overseas Tibetan organizations loyal to its interests, with the formation of the Tibetan Organization of Canada (加拿大藏族同胞聯誼會) in Toronto on April 20th. Several banquet events and press conferences seem to have been held for the organization. Six Tibetan-Canadian organizations in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec have since released an open letter criticizing the Tibetan Organization of Canada.

In particular, the Tibetan Organization of Canada states in its mission that it explicitly opposes Tibetan independence, that it seeks to promote Chinese patriotism among overseas Tibetans, and that it views Tibetans as one of China’s ethnic minorities. Notably, speakers at several events held by the organization have been at odds to emphasize this in a somewhat script-like manner. Events banners have also stated that they are to celebrate the “60th anniversary of the reform of the Tibetan people” (祝西藏民族改革60周年).

Press conference regarding the formation of the Tibetan Organization of Canada. Film credit: 金宏/YouTube

On the other hand, it is a question as to how many members of the Tibetan Organization of Canada are genuinely Tibetans. Judging from videos posted online of events held by the Tibetan Organization of Canada, with some exceptions, most speakers seem to be Han Chinese.

Musical events and performances held at banquet events organized by the Tibetan Organization of Canada seem to slant toward the Han Chinese as well, including Peking opera, western opera, dragon dances, and the singing of the Chinese and Canadian national anthems. Yet some Tibetan trappings are present, such as speakers in traditional Tibetan clothing, and the presence of the khata ceremonial scarf, with performers periodically given khata during the performances. Speakers at events held by Tibetan Organization of Canada have also emphasized opposition to Taiwanese independence and Hong Kong independence.

The Tibetan Organization of Canada appears to be affiliated with, subordinate to, at least closely aligned with the Confederation of Toronto Chinese Canadian Organizations. This would make sense if the Tibetan Organization of Canada sees Tibetans as being an ethnic minority of China.

As an organization, the Confederation of Toronto Chinese Canadian Organizations (多倫多華人團體聯合總會) has at times lashed out at criticisms of Chinese-Canadian politicians for claims that they had close ties to the Chinese government and has been reported on positively by the CCP-run English-language newspaper China Daily for commemorations of the Nanjing Massacre in Ontario, perhaps suggesting some level of anti-Japanese Chinese nationalism.

Musical performance at a banquet event held by the Tibetan Organization of Canada. Film credit: 金宏/YouTube

Moreover, the Confederation of Toronto Chinese Canadian Organizations has links to a number of other overseas Chinese organizations in Canada accused of acting as foreign agents for China. The Confederation of Toronto Chinese Canadian Associations has also been known to have close ties with the Chinese consulate, Confucius Institutes, and been praised by China’s Overseas Affairs Office.

Releases from the organization claimed that Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen sent letters of congratulation regarding the formation of the Tibetan Organization of Canada. The organization also stated Toronto city councillor Jim Karygiannis, a former member of the House of Commons, and ethnic Han politicians Shaun Chen, a House of Commons member, and Legislative Assembly of Ontario member Vincent Ke were reportedly all present at the event.

It has since emerged that the letters purported to be from Justin Trudeau and Ahmed Hussen were fake. At least Ke and Karygiannis have confirmed that they were present at the event, however.

Indeed, it is to be noted that tensions between Canada and China are relatively high at present. Despite criticisms of the Trudeau government for cozy ties with China in the past, with the detention of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou by Canada at America’s request, China has retaliated by detaining three Canadians in China, sentencing one Canadian accused of drug trafficking to death. To this extent, one also remembers a recent controversy recently broke out at the University of Toronto affer the election of a Tibetan-Canadian student as president of a student union, with Chinese students protesting her election victory because of her past support for an independent Tibet.

Speeches at a banquet event held by the Tibetan Organization of Canada. Film credit: 金宏/YouTube

It is far from new for China to try and prop up organizations it hopes to make look as though they are grassroots organizations, as a means of expanding its influence by way of “United Front” tactics. This has become a controversial issue, because it is hard to differentiate between what may genuinely be organizations formed by Chinese immigrant communities or what may genuinely be Chinese student organizations and what are state-led efforts at expanding China’s political influence overseas, as well as distinguishing the borders between legitimate freedom of expression and state-backed propaganda efforts.

Nevertheless, it may represent a new development for China to try and prop up fake Tibetan organizations abroad. This would be in line with broader efforts to depict Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Taiwan as welcoming unification with China

Such a development would only be new insofar as these efforts at false representation may now extend to overseas communities of groups that China claims to be a part of it. And if such efforts are now visible among overseas Tibetans, it would not be unlikely if such efforts will also be carried out among overseas Uighurs, Hong Kongers, and Taiwanese—and such United Front efforts are likely already being carried out with regards to promoting pan-Blue overseas Taiwanese groups or pro-unification Hong Konger groups.

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