Are Canada’s local politicians a target for Beijing’s global PR machine?

Toronto Star – Back in March, as elected officials around the world were accusing the Chinese government of covering up the early spread of the coronavirus, at least one politician in small-town British Columbia was praising Beijing’s handling of the pandemic instead.

“China was ultimately, I think, successful in containing the virus,” Al Richmond, former chair of the Cariboo Regional District in B.C.’s Interior, told the Xinhua news agency.

In a short video, he explained why Ottawa had a lot to learn from Beijing: “The folks I know in China, my friends, are more accepting of (the) government’s recommendation to stay home,” he said.

It seems a small endorsement — the kind of thing that would not make headlines in this country. Many might have agreed with his sentiment.

But China’s premier state-run news outlet extensively promoted Richmond’s remarks on its international social media channels, including Facebook and Twitter — platforms that are banned inside China.

This wasn’t the first time Chinese state media had quoted Richmond. Last June, amid tensions over the arrest of Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou and China’s detention of two Canadian citizens in apparent retaliation, Xinhua ran the headline: “Canadian small Internet suppliers like to use Huawei technology: local official.”

The article related that Richmond supported a deal for Huawei Canada to fund a trial project to install equipment to bring high-speed internet to the small, remote town of Lac La Hache in the Cariboo region.

He told Xinhua, “Anything we can do to move forward, to safely move forward with high speed broadband access to rural Canada will be good for the economy and good helping (sic) for the people.”

In a conversation with the Star, Richmond expressed surprise that Xinhua shared his comments on COVID-19 so widely and portrayed him as someone prominent in Canada. He said the news agency “sought him out” during his visit to Vancouver.

He also said his comments on Huawei last year were about basic internet access, and that he does not have a position on whether the use of Huawei technology in 5G networks would pose a cybersecurity risk.

Richmond confirmed, however, that he has worked to establish closer ties with the Chinese government in recent years, “with the goal of facilitating trade, tourism and business connections” for constituents in his mostly rural community.

In the eyes of some, wittingly or not, Richmond had been pulled into the international public relations and influence machine that is China’s state-controlled press.

Read more HERE.

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