Chang is a former news director for Southern Weekend, a weekly known for investigative reporting. He was banned from working for news outlets in Mainland China in 2010 and worked in Hong Kong until the government denied him a work permit a year later and he moved to Germany.
Earlier this year, Chang says, his siblings were abducted as part of a Chinese government investigation into an anonymous letter calling for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s resignation that appeared on a state-backed news website. Chang maintains he had no connection to the letter.
Chang was in Ottawa this week to present to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development on growing concerns about the Chinese government’s human rights abuses in China and Hong Kong and the international community’s failure to address the problems.
“A lot of the Chinese officials who are involved in human rights violations have not been sanctioned or punished by the international community,” he told the committee. “Not only that, they have also been able to send their kids abroad for further education, or even to stay behind to operate a business from abroad.”
Chang said he’s pro-trade and believes it can further human rights, but that Western leaders must take the opportunity to press the Chinese government on the issues.
Chang’s Canada visit included accepting a press freedom award at the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression gala in Toronto last Thursday.
The Tyee caught up with Chang in Toronto. Soft spoken and unimposing, he laid out what he said are the misunderstandings of Trudeau and other Western leaders in dealing with China.
Part of the problem is that they wrongly think China plays by the same rules as other nations when it comes to international diplomacy and the economy, Chang said.
Western leaders are also too willing to compromise their own values to increase trade and investment, he said.
“What they’re doing is short-termed, short-sighted and irresponsible,” he said through an interpreter. “In the long run they’re abandoning their leadership and responsibility to the detriment of their own interests.”
Beijing has been exporting censorship around the world, including demands Western leaders don’t talk about human rights when engaging with China, he said.
In the interest of business, countries like Canada are giving too much lip service to rights without real commitment or follow through, Chang contends.
“As the leader of Canada, a free country, Prime Minister Trudeau’s job is not just narrowly focusing on economic interests,” Chang said. “He should also, as part of his job, defend the basic values of the free world.”
As Chang testified in Ottawa, Trudeau was being slammed in the House of Commons for his numerous “pay for access” fundraising events, some of which were attended by wealthy businesspeople and others working for the Chinese government.
One of those attending was Zhang Bin, who attended a fundraiser in Toronto on May 19, weeks before finalizing a donation to the University of Montreal’s law school and the Trudeau Foundation for a total of $1 million. Zhang is president of the China Cultural Industry Association, a Chinese-government supervised organization that lists part of its duties as spreading the “soft power” of China through culture.
Zhang and others have been photographed in private homes with Trudeau at two $1,525 per person fundraisers hosted by Chinese-Canadian businessmen.
Translating for Chang was Yaxue Cao, who founded the Washington-based ChinaChange.org devoted to the rule of law, human rights and civil society in China.
Cao, while not referring specifically to Zhang’s donation, said she suspects donations to Canadian politicians could ultimately come from the Chinese government.
Canada and Australia are the two Western countries most “infiltrated” by the Chinese government, she said.
“There’s so many front organizations, but they are really agents and proxies of the government to do these things,” she said. “Rich people have no incentive or the kind of thinking to donate to Western politicians, all of these are steered by the party.”
Trudeau has committed to ushering in a new era of positive relations between China and Canada, including a possible free trade deal.
China’s government has told Canada it would like to see a pipeline to the west coast and an end to restrictions on investments by companies owned by foreign governments as part of any possible free trade agreement.
China’s consul general in Calgary has also called for Canada to allow Chinese companies to import their own workers.
Chang said Canada and other Western countries have no excuse for not pressing Beijing on human rights and other issues.
“A decade back you might say Western leaders were naive, but today it’s very hard to say they’re naive,” he said. “They have seen enough, they should know better.”
Author: Jeremy J. Nuttall