Vancouver (StarMetro) – A Richmond, B.C.-based society that has been named in an RCMP investigation into alleged vote-buying is part of a Canadian alliance that has met with Chinese government authorities, according to official documents.
RCMP in Metro Vancouver said Friday they were probing allegations that the Canada Wenzhou Friendship Society sent out messages on social media app WeChat, offering voters a $20 transportation subsidy while urging chat group members to vote for certain candidates of Chinese descent, including Hong Guo, an independent mayoral candidate for Richmond; Peter Liu, a council candidate with Richmond First; and Melissa Zhang, a council candidate with Richmond Community Coalition.
The vote-buying allegations — and subsequent RCMP investigations in Burnaby, Richmond and Vancouver — triggered anxieties about vote-tampering in general and has raised questions about the extent to which foreign governments engage with Canadian politics.
A RCMP spokesperson told StarMetro they could not disclose details of the ongoing probe into the alleged vote-buying, and would not say whether specific individuals are under investigation.
The Canada Wenzhou Friendship Society, formed in 2001, is a member of the Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations (CACA), a group of over 100 organizations committed to strengthening Chinese-Canadian ties.
The CACA website says that leading representatives have met multiple times in the last decade with senior staff of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, a Chinese government body, according to activity reports translated by StarMetro.
Joint meetings between the alliance and members of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office are also listed as part of the alliance’s introductory charter on its website.
StarMetro found no evidence that the current president of the Canada Wenzhou Friendship Society, Zhaofeng You, has any leadership roles in any group with ties to the Chinese government.
His predecessor, Miaofei Pan, represented the CACA as its president on an eight-day visit to China in 2012 at the invitation of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Committee of China’s national legislature.
The purpose of the meeting was for the Beijing government to “seek comments and suggestions” on its policies regarding overseas Chinese populations, according to an alliance statement.
China’s State Council website describes the CPPCC as a “patriotic united front organization and an important institution of multiparty co-operation and political consultation led by the Communist Party of China.”
Teng could not be reached for comment.
Teng and Pan were both leaders of another association in China aimed at promoting Chinese diplomatic policy internationally.
It is unclear whether the practice of offering $20 subsidies for voting was in place during Teng’s or Pan’s leadership of the Canada Wenzhou Friendship Society. Neither they nor the society responded to StarMetro’s email and phone requests for comment.
James Lewis, senior vice-president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., told StarMetro that the friendship society’s affiliation with CACA could point to “a degree” of involvement by the Chinese government in Canadian politics.
“It’s part of a larger Chinese effort around the world,” he said. “For the past few years, the Chinese have had a major effort to improve China’s image around the world.”
A report ordered in 2016 by Australia’s prime minister found that China’s activities to influence domestic politics had become “brazen” and “aggressive” in their country, according to a report author.
Joanna Chiu is assistant managing editor in Vancouver. Follow her on Twitter: @joannachiu
Jenny Peng is a Vancouver-based reporter covering business. Follow her on Twitter: @JennyPengNow