Two Michaels: Gov’t clear campaign flag unit to sow doubt


A federal unit that monitors foreign interference has identified what appears to be a coordinated information campaign by China’s state-run media to control domestic narratives surrounding becoming a political party. back to Canada “two Michaels”.

The Canada Rapid Response Mechanism recognizes that this effort also appears to be aimed at fostering confusion or suspicion in Canada and internationally about what Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were doing in China prior to their detention in Canada. end of 2018.

The Canadian press used the Access to Information Act to obtain unit analysis of the events of September 2021, the latest window into a tense geopolitical drama unfolding between Ottawa and Beijing. for almost three years.

Some parts of the document, deemed too sensitive for release, were blacked out.

Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, a senior executive at Chinese company Huawei Technologies, in December 2018 at the request of the United States, where she faces charges related to US sanctions. America against Iran.

The move clearly infuriated Beijing, and two Canadians working in China – Kovrig and Spavor – were arrested soon after on charges of endangering national security, a move widely welcomed. considered retaliation against Ottawa.

Kovrig and Spavor were both found guilty of espionage in 2021 in China’s closed courts. Canada and many of its allies say the process leads to arbitrary arrests on bogus charges in an irresponsible justice system.

The United States drafted a deferred prosecution agreement in Meng’s case, allowing her release and Beijing allowing the two Michaels, as they were known, to fly home on September 25.

A large amount of relief from the Canadians welcomed their return. Capturing this sentiment was a tweet from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service: “CSIS joins all Canadians in welcoming you back to Canada.”

Analysis by RRM Canada on September 28 said it had identified a report from Chinese state media that claimed the two Michaels had “confessed to their guilt”, “being released on bail because medical reasons” and CSIS unwittingly revealed they were Canadian spies.

This unit, based at Global Affairs Canada, creates open data analytics to chart trends, strategies and tactics against foreign interference. These efforts support the G7 RRM, an initiative to increase coordination to identify and respond to threats to leading industrial democracies.

RRM Canada said it first discovered the “two Michaels” report on September 26, when the Global Times, a state media tabloid, published a lengthy article in English with headline, “Two Canadians confess to guilt, released on medical bail before leaving China: source.”

RRM’s analysis captures the story that the two men were “released on bail”, “confessed to their crimes and wrote letters of confession and repentance in their own handwriting” and left China “according to legal legal custom.”

“The author adds that China’s suspicions are not unfounded and points to a recent CSIS tweet welcoming the two Michaels back to Canada.”

Meng walked out of a British Columbia courthouse on September 24 after a judge agreed to a discharge order, withdrawing a US extradition request against her.

It followed her virtual appearance in a New York court, where she pleaded not guilty to all charges and a judge signed a deferred prosecution agreement.

At the time, Nicole Boeckmann, acting US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said that by entering into the deferred prosecution agreement, Meng had accepted responsibility for her role in carrying out a conspiracy. conspiracy to defraud a global financial institution.

Boeckmann said Ms. Meng’s admission in a fact-finding statement confirms that she misrepresented a senior executive of a financial institution about Huawei’s business in Iran in the past year. endeavors to maintain the company’s banking relationship with this institution.

That same day, news accounts on Chinese social media platform WeChat reported that Meng would appear in US and Canadian courts and possibly sign a deferred prosecution agreement that would allow her to return to court. back to China, the RRM analysis notes.

“Because the full details of the DPA are unclear, Canadian WeChat news accounts have reported that she will plead guilty or admit to wrongdoing in defrauding a global financial institution.” analysis said. “Chinese state media did not include any discussion or information about this in their official reports on Ms. Meng’s release.”

In response, the RRM analysis said, most mentions of what Meng had agreed to in the deferred prosecution settlement were taken down.

WeChat users will see an error message from platform developer Tencent that says, “this content cannot be viewed because it violates regulations.”

RRM notes that this type of notice only appears when Tencent or China’s Cyberspace Administration removes content from news accounts. However, it was unable to determine who took the story down.

The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa did not respond to RRM Canada’s request for comment.

The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab says China has an extensive censorship system that includes restrictions on internet, apps and media. Internet platforms operating in China are subject to local laws and regulations regarding content control, the research lab said.

Fen Hampson, a professor of international affairs at Carleton University, said that China’s actions in relation to the online dialogue about the events of last September showed a lack of tact.

Hampson, co-author with Canadian press reporter Mike Blanchfield of “The Two Michaels: Innocent Canadian Captives and High Stakes Espionage in” The Two Michaels: Innocent Canadian Captives and High Stakes Espionage in the US-China Cyber ​​War. “

“This is Chinese state censorship.”

This Canadian Press report was first published on June 21, 2022.

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