The Five Eyes and Canada’s ‘China Panic’: PART 1 – The Making of Canada’s “China Panic” and Diplomatic Fallout

Other western countries face difficulties in their relations
with China, Russia, or other powers, but none finds themselves in the same situation as Canada. — Jocelyn Coulon, former advisor to the minister of foreign affairs (2016-2017) in Le Devoir

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by John Price with the National Security Reference Group and Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT)


This discussion paper exposes how Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Five Eyes fabricated a “China Threat” in 2018, escalating into a firestorm with the arrest of Meng Wanzhou at YVR in December of that year. Intensified by anti-Asian racism during the COVID-19 pandemic and fueled by CSIS leaks, along with a hostile media sensationalizing accusations of ‘foreign interference,’ the China threat has evolved into Canada’s “China Panic” with profound implications. The paper examines the three stages in the creation of this panic and how a toxic blend of Sinophobia and anti-communism has hindered any resolution of the crisis by the federal NDP, Conservatives, and Bloc Québécois. While other countries are stabilizing relations with the People’s Republic of China, Canada finds itself stuck – a diplomatic outlier struggling to address internal issues. Simultaneously, CSIS is implementing an unprecedented research surveillance system in Canadian universities, and the Canadian Armed Forces are frequently engaging in skirmishes with PRC forces in East Asia. The situation has reached a critical juncture, necessitating difficult conversations to chart a path forward toward justice and peace. 

Executive Summary:

This report reveals how US intelligence agencies and CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) manufactured an inflated ‘China Threat’ in 2018 that mutated over the next five years to become Canada’s ‘China Panic,’ with far-reaching implications. Providing the first detailed and fully referenced account of the creation and rise of the China Panic, the report dissects the recent past to reveal how the heads of the CIA, FBI, and other US intelligence agencies, appointed by Donald Trump, launched what the Wall Street Journal called an unprecedented campaign in early 2018 to portray China and the telecom giant Huawei as a major threat to the Five Eyes, composed of the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.

Attending Five Eyes’ meetings in London (UK) and in Halifax was CSIS director David Vigneault, who uncritically accepted the US accusations, rushing to share them with Justin Trudeau in the spring and summer of 2018. Fully informed of US accusations, the Canadian government willingly accepted the US request to extradite Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. The firestorm that erupted with the subsequent arrests of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig plunged Canada-China relations into a crisis from which they have yet to recover.

Exacerbated by anti-Asian racism during the COVID-19 pandemic that began in 2020, then amplified by constant CSIS leaks and media accusations of ‘foreign interference,’ the China threat has become Canada’s ‘China Panic,’ a classic example of threat inflation with far-reaching effects on diplomacy, university research, and defense policy. The findings highlight the need for a sober reassessment of Canada-China relations, particularly in light of revelations regarding the involvement of India in the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, exposés of Canada’s own spy operations in Asia, and recent US and Australian initiatives to stabilize relations with China. 

The report is presented in three parts:

Part 1 acknowledges that criticism of China in itself is not racist and that the People’s Republic of China has plenty of problems that can be and are used to foment dissension. It tracks how such issues have been amplified and distorted, leading to an unrelenting crisis in Canada-China relations. As a result, Canada has become a diplomatic lame duck, unable to extract itself from the ‘China Panic’ while the US and Australia actively seek a rapprochement with China in an effort to stabilize relations. Highlighting the stages in the making of the China Panic over the past five years, it tracks the interactions of three distinct narratives – China as a techno-threat; China as a viral threat; and China as interferer. It then follows the paper trail back to 2018, when CSIS first imported the narrative from the Trump administration. The report suggests the intensity of the crisis in Canada is related to the position staked out by the federal NDP as a ‘cold warrior’ regarding China. This has led to an NDP/Conservative/Bloc Québécois alliance that has institutionalized the ‘China threat’ discourse and stymied any initiative to mitigate the crisis. It concludes by illustrating the complicated relationship between Sinophobia and anti-communism that is used to create a divisive narrative about ‘good Chinese’ and ‘bad Chinese.’

Part 2 focuses on the close collaboration that has arisen between Canada’s preeminent research universities (U15) and CSIS. The report explores how David Vigneault first approached the U15 as far back as 2018 with CIA/FBI claims that China was using “human-enabled espionage” to steal research secrets developed in Canadian universities. The report points to the failure on the part of the U15 to subject CSIS claims to any form of scientific scrutiny with the result being the adoption of new research guidelines that have led to racial profiling in universities. The study explores the dynamics of, and resistance to, racial profiling in both the US and Canada. The government is now preparing to introduce vastly expanded research restrictions that will mark the rise of a research surveillance system unprecedented in Canadian history. CSIS director David Vigneault claims that CSIS efforts with the “principals of the largest Canadian research universities” have been so successful that it has come “to the point now it is them asking us, you know, how can we work together?” It outlines possible actions that might counteract the emerging surveillance systems threatening international research collaboration and academic freedom.

Part 3 focuses on the recent deployment of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) to actively patrol around the Korean peninsula and in the South China Sea. The result has been regular skirmishes with PRC forces in the region. Examining the origins of these deployments arising from the Vancouver Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in early 2018, the paper tracks the escalation over the next five years and the resistance it engenders on the part of Indigenous peoples in the Pacific as well as from the PRC. Probing how CAF deployments enable the US military to justify its longstanding military domination of the area, the report suggests that recent CAF military deployments constitute an important shift in Canadian foreign policy that has taken place without any serious public consultation. Does this shift towards forward engagements with the US military in the Pacific signal the end to the search for an autonomous Canadian foreign policy? Increasing polarization will demand difficult conversations and critical decisions to avoid the calamities of war and environmental degradation that imperil the planet. 


The Making of Canada’s “China Panic” and Diplomatic Fallout


In the summer of 2023, the People’s Republic of China (hereafter PRC, or China) expanded the resumption of group tours to 78 countries. Canada was not among the countries included in this new authorization—a serious blow, given that Chinese tourists coming to Canada contributed over a billion dollars per year to the travel industry prior to COVID-19. Yet the main protagonist with China today—the United States—as well as the United Kingdom, Australia, and Japan all received approval for group tours from China, despite having had rocky relations with China. Why have these countries gained approval for group travel, but Canada has not?

To further illustrate how far Canada has diverged, even from its allies, consider that over the past six months, the United States has sent five cabinet-level delegations to China and supported the creation of two new US-China economic committees. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has visited China amid reports suggesting the Australian government will allow China’s purchase of the Port of Darwin to stand, and has withdrawn complaints to the WTO against Chinese tariffs on Australian wine. Xi Jinping and US President Biden met at the APEC summit in November with reported agreements to open a presidential hotline, to resume military-to-military communications, and to curb fentanyl production. And Canada? Not a single delegation since 2019. The sole minister to go to China was the Minister of the Environment, Steven Guilbeault, who went to China in the summer of 2023, not to discuss Canada-China relations, but rather to attend a pre-planned meeting of the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED), along with representatives of the United Nations.

Whereas the US and Australia are making substantial efforts with China to stabilize relations, despite ongoing tensions, Canada has been unable or unwilling to do so and is now out in the cold, on its own, as pointed out by Jocelyn Coulon above. Global Affairs Canada can only sit and observe as other actors determine the fate of Canada-China relations. This inability to find a path forward distinguishes Canada from its allies.

In this paper, we examine the crisis as it has developed over the past five years and suggest that:

  1. Factors specific to Canada amplified the “China threat” into a perfect storm, inciting what might be called Canada’s “China Panic”.
  2. The crisis has deepened with no end in sight because the federal New Democratic Party (NDP), the minority Liberal government’s main ally, is stoking and perpetuating the “China Panic”.
  3. Underlying the narratives that are driving the “China Panic” is a complex intersection of Sinophobia (overt or systemic forms of racism based on fear or hatred directed at China or at peoples of Chinese heritage) and anti-communism (exaggeration, stigmatization, or demonization of an entity as communist that erases the complexity and contributions of radical political formations, and invites state repression).

The onset of the crisis in Canada-China relations dates to 2018. Prior to this, relations had been relatively cordial. In 2016, Justin Trudeau traveled to China, then Premier Li Keqiang visited Canada, and the two countries began discussions on a potential free trade agreement (FTA). These discussions continued into 2017. Canadian warships were warmly greeted while visiting Shanghai in 2017. Furthermore, Canada’s new defense policy, announced in June 2017, called for strengthening ties with China, as did Chrystia Freeland in her speech on foreign policy priorities, just prior to the defense policy being announced. In 2017, 48 percent of Canadians viewed China favorably compared to only 12 percent in 2023 according to Angus Reid polling.

So, what happened?


The Making of Canada’s “China Panic”:

Criticism of China is not in itself racist, and a number of PRC actions have provided grist for the narrative mills stoking the “China threat” in this period. Ongoing repression against the Uyghur peoples in western China (Xinjiang), the imposition of new security laws in Hong Kong and the arrest of many activists, and assertive sovereignty claims in ongoing territorial disputes in East Asia have been among the most reported. Furthermore, the existence of a massive surveillance apparatus in the PRC, confirmed by Edward Snowden in his 2013 revelations, has been cause for concern. Any inappropriate activities on the part of the Chinese or other governments in Canada need to be dealt with appropriately, and measures to deal with such transgressions already exist. But whatever threat China may present has been blown out of proportion. US foreign policy specialist Stephen Walt describes this type of threat inflation: “A time-honored method for selling an ambitious foreign policy is to exaggerate foreign dangers.” Gordon Laxer, professor emeritus of the University of Alberta, recently described how this threat inflation distorts matters in Canada: “China’s ability to sway a broad spectrum of Canadian voters is far weaker than the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producer’s (CAPP) foreign-funded political interference.” In that sense, PRC problems in themselves provide little explanatory power for the continuing crisis in Canada-China relations that has seen the “China threat” escalate to unheard-of levels. Other countries, including liberal entities such as the United States, have committed extensive crimes against humanity and peace without being portrayed as an existential threat to Canada.

To understand the nature of the “China Panic” requires a close reading of the specific events, narratives, and dynamics as they have evolved in Canada, with attention to the role of Canada’s main spy agency, CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service). For the purposes of analysis, we categorize three specific types of discourse/actions that occurred in successive, overlapping waves of hostility directed at the PRC.


China as Techno-Threat:

On December 1, 2018, Canadian authorities detained and arrested Meng Wanzhou while she was transferring to a flight to Mexico at YVR, Vancouver International Airport. The arrest was legally justified by an extradition request from the United States. The arrest of Meng, a top executive of the Chinese telecom giant Huawei (and the daughter of its founder), was serious. At the time, Donald Trump told

his national security advisor, John Bolton, that they had just arrested “the Ivanka Trump of China.” Bolton recounted that he wanted to reply, “I never knew Ivanka was a spy and fraudster,” but restrained himself, asserting instead that “Huawei wasn’t a company but an arm of China’s intelligence services.”

China retaliated, arresting Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig a few weeks later, plunging Canada-China relations into a crisis from which they have yet to recover. The perception that Huawei, and thus Meng, were ‘malign actors’ and represented a major threat to US pre-eminence in technology, and thus a strategic threat to US global power, was behind this crisis that lasted for 33 months.

The perceived techno-threat was acted upon and reinforced as a narrative in Canada through a series of measures: the suspension and subsequent firing of Xianguo Qiu and Keding Cheng of the National Microbiology Laboratory (2019); the House of Commons resolution demanding the banning of Huawei (2020); announcement of the formation of a Government of Canada-Universities Working Group to develop science security guidelines; an Alberta government fiat instructing universities to cut ties, individual and organizational, with Chinese institutions; new guidelines for research partnerships issued for NSERC Alliance grants (2021); the banning of Huawei in 5G telecom networks; new policies to restrict Chinese foreign investment in critical minerals, and an order against three Chinese corporations forcing them to disinvest (2022); the banning of TikTok from government platforms followed by the banning of WeChat (2023). All of these measures were accompanied by extensive media hype, amplifying the “China threat” to justify the measures. 


China as Viral Threat:

Meng and the two Michaels were still being held when the COVID-19 virus became a pandemic, and major countermeasures began in Canada. The Vancouver Province newspaper was quick to label the contagion in its headline, “Second China Virus Case in BC,” a refrain taken up and popularized by US President Donald Trump. The pandemic elicited a tremendous amount of vitriol against the PRC as the purported source of the virus, adding a new layer to the “China threat” discourse.

In January 2020, Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam remarked on and called out as “unacceptable and very hurtful” social media attacks related to the coronavirus against people of Chinese or Asian descent. She herself came under attack when Conservative Party leadership contender Derek Sloan tweeted, “Dr. Tam must go! Canada must remain sovereign over decisions. The UN, the WHO, and Chinese Communist propaganda must never again have a say over Canada’s public health!” Similar refrains were taken up by journalists who took aim at the PRC, vilifying it for its handling of the outbreak and suggesting that the CPC was using the outbreak “to realize the party’s long-game objective of fully eclipsing North America and Europe in the global order.” Racist attacks against those who appeared to be Asian quickly escalated, turning Vancouver into what was called the hate capital of the world. The attacks elicited a major fightback campaign among Asian Canadians. At the same time, CSIS and CSE (Communications Security Establishment) jointly announced that they were “near certain that state-sponsored actors have shifted their focus during the pandemic, and that Canadian intellectual property represents a valuable target.” The agencies added that they were working closely with the Five Eyes (United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada) spy network to reinforce national security. Collaborative international efforts to confront the contagion were not on Canada’s agenda.


China as Interferer:

Prior to the 2021 election, Conservative candidate Kenny Chiu proposed a Foreign Influence Registry that caused a backlash among some Chinese Canadians who then vented their anger on “WeChat.” After losing his election bid, Chiu accused the PRC of having orchestrated the campaign against him. Similar accusations of PRC interference surfaced sporadically, but then CSIS leaks to journalists regarding purported Chinese interference (supplemented by the RCMP alleging Chinese government operating “police stations” in Montreal’s Chinatown, a charge refuted by Chinese community organizations) created a major crisis for the Liberal government. They responded by announcing a special inquiry into foreign influence (David Johnston, Special Rapporteur), consultations on a “Foreign Influence Transparency Registry,” and other measures. These ended in a fiasco as opposition parties refused to accept Johnston’s preliminary report, forcing him to resign. The Liberal government was then forced to call a “Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions,” to be led by Justice Marie-Josée Hogue. This public inquiry is underway.

Far from exhaustive, this list gives some idea of the successive stages and overlapping layers in the making of Canada’s “China panic.” The combination of state and media racializing discourse created what appeared to be a crisis. A report on media coverage of the Meng detention suggests her arrest was “positioned as a continuing discourse about the dangers associated with China and Chinese companies and less about Meng as an individual facing judicial hearings. Meng is positioned as a symbol of ‘China threat.’” Al Jazeera columnist Andrew Mitrovica describes “a dangerous hysteria gripping Canada over the scope and nature of Chinese interference in Canadian elections and society, ginned up by scoop-thirsty reporters and timorous spies who do not give a damn about the human costs of their sinister handiwork.” The frenzy reeks, he says, “of the old ‘yellow peril’ canard.” Constant leaks from CSIS to the Globe and Mail were instrumental in sustaining the media frenzy. These were leaks that CSIS has been unable or unwilling to stop. 

2018: Ground Zero in the Making of the China Threat

In some ways, history resembles epidemiology in that both have the task of finding the source and cause of what they are examining, for example, an epidemic, or a war. In the case of the “China threat,” the director of Canada’s research universities (U15) recounted that “The notion that national security guidelines will need to be built into the research ecosystem really came to the fore in 2018.” This statement piqued our curiosity because 2018 was very early in the making of the “China threat” – Meng was only arrested at the end of 2018, and the pandemic and accusations of Chinese “interference” came later, in the main. So, this statement set off a search for events in 2018 that might have triggered the “China threat.” The paper trail from the beginning of 2018 provides important clues as to what has been going on.

As it turns out, Canada’s spy agency, CSIS, was the main source for the 2018 accusation regarding China’s techno-threat. More important, however, is the means by which CSIS determined that such a threat existed. One might expect that with thousands of employees and a billion-dollar budget between them, CSIS and the CSE (Canadian Security Establishment) might have come up with an independent assessment of actual challenges or threats in Canada. But, instead, Canada’s spy agencies relied on its counterparts in the United States.

In February 2018, six intelligence chiefs appointed by the Trump administration (Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, FBI Director Chris Wray, NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, and National Geospatial Intelligence Agency Director Robert Cardillo) appeared together before the Senate Intelligence Committee to assert that the government and the public should not use products or services from Huawei, as reported in both CNBC and the Wall Street Journal. The transcript of the testimony of FBI director Chris Wray includes this passage:

“So one of the things we’re trying to do is view the China threat as not just a whole of government threat, but a whole of society threat on their end. I think it’s going to take a whole of society response by us. So it’s not just the intelligence community, but it’s raising awareness within our academic sector, within our private sector, as part of the defense.”

The “whole of society” designation implies that all “Chinese” are spies, an accusation that could be (and was) easily transferred to the Chinese diaspora (see the ‘China Initiative,’ Part 2). “In addition to exaggerating enemy capabilities, threat inflation typically describes potential enemies as irrevocably hostile, irrational, and impossible to deter, which in turn implies that they must be removed,” according to Harvard scholar Stephen M. Walt. In this case, this takes the racializing form of turning the whole of the Chinese people into an imminent danger that requires extraordinary efforts by all American society to protect itself. According to the National Security Agency, “We must defend our National Security Innovation Base (NSIB) against competitors. The NSIB is the American network of knowledge, capabilities, and people—including academia, National Laboratories, and the private sector—that turns ideas into innovations, transforms discoveries into successful commercial products and companies, and protects and enhances the American way of life.”

Presented with such views, many people in Canada would take them with a grain of salt, seeing them as predictable nationalist performances from a Trump administration. Those with a sense of history might even have laughed, given the well-documented record of these agencies’ direct involvement in racial profiling, torture, and coup d’etats (see Appendix A). But not CSIS.

Within weeks of the US Senate hearing, the Five Eyes spy consortium convened successive meetings, with CSIS director David Vigneault in attendance. The first took place in London, UK during the Commonwealth conference in April 2018. The second occurred in July in Halifax. The strategy emerging from these meetings prompted what the Wall Street Journal described as an “unprecedented campaign” to portray China and Huawei as a major security risk to the Five Eyes telecommunications systems, particularly 5G networks. After both meetings, Five Eyes representatives, including Vigneault, met with Justin Trudeau to impress upon him the need for action against Huawei. This is how the “China Threat” materialized in Canada.

CSIS’s uncritical reliance on US spy agencies is not new. In 2003, a security analyst revealed: “CSIS analysis of Iraq’s WMDs tended to support the claims coming from Washington. This is likely a reflection of the discomfort of CSIS managers and analysts at being out of step with the US intelligence community on a critical issue which might compromise their close operational links.” In the case cited, a non-CSIS advisor told then prime minister Chretien to ignore CSIS, which he did, and Canada did not directly join in the US-led invasion of Iraq. CSIS, however, remains a true believer. As former agent Huda Mukbil recently described, “CSIS culture is like the military’s – you do as you’re told and don’t question anything. That’s what intelligence officers sign up for.” CSIS’s record of Islamophobia, spying on environmental and Indigenous groups, and collaborating in US schemes involving extraordinary rendition and torture reflect their close affinity with the values of their US counterparts.

Canada is not the only country that has been subjected to the US-sponsored discourse on the “China threat.” A recent study of island nations found “most notably the prominence of the USA government as either a direct or indirect actor in localizing and activating the China threat discourse.” Australia has also gone through a similar experience.

Unlike Chretien’s defiance of CSIS in 2003, however, the Liberal government in 2018 fully embraced the “China threat” as articulated by CSIS. This set Canada on the road to confrontation with the PRC, one that exploded with the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou that December, and that was continuously amplified through the successive phases of the pandemic and later claims of ‘foreign interference’. Since the 2019 federal election, the Liberal government has only been able to form a minority government and has relied on the federal New Democratic Party (NDP) to stay in power. The position of the NDP on the “China threat” is critical to understanding the prolonged and intense crisis in Canada-China relations.

NDP as Cold Warrior

Canada’s inability to manage the crisis is related to the fact that the Liberal Party, led by Justin Trudeau, heads a minority government that owes its existence since 2021 to a supply and services agreement with the NDP. On the issue of China, the federal NDP has adopted a zealous anti-communist stance that has scuttled every attempt by the Liberals to contain the crisis. The NDP has been working hand in glove with the Conservatives and Bloc Québécois to attack the PRC and undermine Trudeau’s government. For example:

  • The federal NDP pushed to ban Huawei from the 5G network beginning in 2020, aligning itself with the Five Eyes from the beginning.
  • The NDP followed the lead of Trump right-hand man, Mike Pompeo, in labeling China’s repression of Uyghurs as genocide, even though lawyers in the State Department disputed that designation.
  • In regard to the inquiry by former governor-general David Johnston, it was a federal NDP representative who stood up in parliament on May 30 to introduce a motion calling for Johnston to resign. Thanks to the alliance between the NDP, the Conservatives, and the Bloc Québécois, the motion passed 175-150 and precipitated Johnston’s resignation.
  • Similarly, the federal NDP plays a key role in the triumvirate that is behind the House of Commons Special Committee on Canada-People’s Republic of China Relations (CACN), formed in December 2019. Denis Trudel (Bloc Québécois), Heather McPherson (NDP), and Michael Chong (Conservatives) served as vice-chairs of this special committee and tabled an interim report that proposes Canada “make efforts to join the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and AUKUS security pact to bolster Canada’s presence in the Indo-Pacific region to counter the People’s Republic of China’s threats to the region.”
  • A representative of the NDP sponsored a parliamentary petition demanding the government set up a foreign influence registry quickly and criticizing the anti-racist actions of others in the community.

This unusual alliance of the federal NDP with the two other opposition parties represents a merging of a racializing Sinophobia on the part of the Conservatives and Bloc Québécois, with a trend among some racialized activists in the NDP to demonize China, not for racial reasons, but out of hatred of China’s actions in Hong Kong. The dynamics of Canada’s anti-racist movement help illuminate the dynamics involved.

Sinophobia and Anti-Communism

Anti-racist activists and scholars have challenged the Sinophobia associated with the overlapping threat discourses that have emerged over the past five years. In May 2020, for example, Carleton University’s Xiaobei Chen and a group of Chinese Canadian professors launched a petition challenging Global News journalist Sam Cooper’s racializing portrayal of “millions of Chinese Canadians” buying up PPT and jeopardizing Canada’s own efforts. Cooper responded by alleging that behind the petition was “the hand of Beijing.”28 Chinese Canadians were put in an untenable position of wearing masks and risking racist abuse or not wearing them and risking contracting COVID.

Professor Thy Phu (University of Toronto) highlighted how the pandemic made Sinophobia “palpable in the moral panic evinced about primitive tastes and backward practices, unhygienic conditions at foreign wet markets, and unseemly appetites for exotic animals. Sinophobia is also the force that animates conspiracy theories, which blame China for concocting the novel coronavirus with the intention of unleashing it upon the world—theories that have gone viral despite efforts to debunk them.”29

The mobilization against anti-Asian racism during COVID pushed the “China as a virus” discourse into the background as narratives about China as a techno-threat came to the fore. Asian American scholars were among the first to identify this issue: “Arguably, the yellow peril of today represents heightened Western anxieties around China’s combined forces of population size, global economic growth, and rapid technological-scientific innovation—all of which emerge from a political system that is considered ideologically oppositional to ours. The current context, we suggest, is best understood through the lens of techno-Orientalism.”30 The ideological system referred to is communism and points to how this particular form of Sinophobia and anti-communism often go together. The following example illustrates this.

When the Meng-Michaels exchange took place in September 2021, Canadian senator Yuen Pau Woo welcomed the two Canadians home and suggested the need to learn from the experience. In his tweet, he referenced an article that stated that the “US assisted by Canada, took Meng hostage in the first place as part of its trade-and-technology war with China.” The racist outrage in response was breathtaking in its vitriol. Former Conservative minister of immigration, Chris Alexander tweeted: “Mouthpieces for foreign propaganda, including those backed by China’s United Front Work Department, should have no place in Canada’s parliament.” Alexander’s tweet was shared by others who referred to Woo as “pond scum,” a “Chinese commie f—” who should be “sent back to China along with Meng,” according to the Canadian Press report.

Xiaobei Chen has elaborated on the intersection of racism and anti-communism, attesting to the way in which the racial profiling of Chinese Canadians as “communist spies sabotaging national interests is happening with increasing frequency in the media, governments, and other institutions.”Part of the problem, she states, is a binary concept of Chinese Canadians “as either Good Chinese (i.e., victims of the Chinese Communist Party) or Bad Chinese (i.e., Communist Party accomplices). Chen argues that multiculturalism and foreign policy have become “conduits for discourses of prejudice to be perpetuated.” In Australian Foreign Affairs, Yun Jiang highlights the specific dilemma this poses for those brought up in China but who are now resident in other countries, such as Australia or Canada.

Criticism of the PRC is to be expected; however, some of the criticism crosses a threshold from legitimate critique to demonization arising out of racial anxieties. But not all. In March 2023, Yuen Pau Woo tweeted that a foreign interference registry might be a modern form of Chinese exclusion and referred to the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act that had forced all Chinese Canadians to register. He was pilloried on Twitter (now X) with comments such as “Wouldn’t expect less from a hanjian.” Hong Kong activist Nathan Law tweeted “Opposed the Uyghur Genocide bill, supported Beijing’s Winter Olympics, and claimed that China has a “legitimate” legal system. Now this ridiculous comparison. Time will tell now who needs to register as a foreign agent. #CCP.” In this case, the inference that Woo would have to register as a foreign agent stems not from racism but rather from hatred of the Chinese Communist Party for what transpired in Hong Kong. As understandable as such sentiments might be, they, too, cross a line by unjustly implying that someone is a foreign agent because they hold differing views on the future of Canada-China relations. This is a form of anti-communism that has historically gone hand-in-hand with McCarthyism in the United States.

Coming to grips with the intersection of racism and anti-communism poses important challenges. When Arab Canadian activist Khaled Mouammar wrote to Evan Dyer of the CBC to suggest that the Conservative Party campaign regarding alleged Chinese interference would intensify racism faced by Chinese Canadians, Dwyer responded: “Sorry Khaled, Canada is a sovereign country and has the right to defend itself from a hostile dictatorship. This is not about race or racism. In fact, some of the loudest voices calling for Canada to do more to stand up to China are Chinese-Canadians. The individuals most affected by this kind of interference are ethnic Chinese, such as Hong Kong pro-democracy activists who are being intimidated in person, by phone, and by social media. I would add that the motion I reported on was brought forward by a Canadian MP whose name is Chong. Meanwhile some of the Chinese Communist Party’s loudest defenders in Canada have no ethnic connection to China but perhaps share an ideological affinity with the Communist Party or have a financial stake in placating the Chinese Communist Party, such as one of our former ambassadors to Beijing. I intend to continue to cover this important topic. Thanks for writing.”

Relying on the fact that Chinese Canadians are involved in the campaign against China, Dwyer suggests that racism is not involved. He goes on to dismiss those who differ as either ideologs for the CCP or lining their pockets with Peking gold. This interchange, and Dyer’s insidious generalizations, reflect how easily reporters can fall into the trap of relying on anti-communism to deflect and minimize the dangers of anti-Asian racism. That is unfortunate and can only prolong the “China Panic” that is promoting fear and divisions in many communities and distorting the challenges ahead.

As new issues come to the fore, such as the Modi government’s apparent involvement in extraterritorial assassinations or Israel’s assault on Gaza, the “China Panic” may appear to be receding in Canada; however, the crisis will not be easily resolved. It continues to simmer and has already given rise to new systems of research surveillance and censorship in universities. 


John Price is a historian with a focus on Asia and the Pacific, as well as Asian Canadian history. An emeritus professor at the University of Victoria, he is the author of “Orienting Canada: Race, Empire, and the Transpacific” and, with Ningping Yu, “A Woman in Between: Searching for Dr. Victoria Chung.” As an anti-racist educator, he has worked extensively with racialized communities, co-authoring “Challenging Racist British Columbia: 150 Years and Counting” and “1923: Challenging Racisms Past and Present.” John Price has written extensively for publications such as The Tyee, the Victoria Times Colonist, Georgia Straight, the Hill Times, Canadian Dimension, and He is a board member of Canada-China Focus and a member of the National Security Reference Group of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT).

The National Security Reference Group (CAUT): The Canadian Association of University Teachers established this group in the spring of 2023 in light of growing concerns about racial profiling and restrictions to academic freedom arising from new national security guidelines being imposed by the government on researchers. Composed of representatives from universities across the country, the reference group monitors the impact of such guidelines and advises the Canadian Association of University Teachers on potential measures to counteract the effects of racial profiling and restrictions on academic freedom. Members of the group contributed to this discussion paper through their ongoing efforts and critical analysis, providing specific materials for the paper, and offering feedback on initial drafts.


This discussion paper could not have been written or published without significant contributions from many people. The Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives at the University of Victoria generously stepped forward and agreed to publish the paper despite the risks associated with the current anti-China atmosphere. Special thanks to Helen Lansdowne (associate director), Victor V. Ramraj (director), and Katie Dey (office manager and communications).

Much appreciation to those who took the time to review and comment on the manuscript, including Paul Evans, Gregory Chin, Midori Ogasawara, and individual members of CAUT’s National Security Reference Group. Senator Yuen Pau Woo has provided support in multiple ways despite trying circumstances. Many thanks to Patricia Kidd for the meticulous copy editing, and to John Endo Greenaway for the stellar design and layout.

Finally, my thanks to the board, staff, and supporters of Canada-China Focus, who have been both inspiring and instrumental in bringing this project to completion. 


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