Advocates for Palestine and a multipolar world: Information operations by pro-CCP networks targeting Canada 

27 June 2024

This briefing outlines how official pro-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) actors, Chinese state-affiliated media outlets and Canadian alternative media outlets have engaged with ongoing events related to the Israel-Hamas conflict. It is part of a research series examining the impacts of the ongoing conflict on extremism, hate and disinformation in Canada. This project has made been possible in part by the Government of Canada. All views are ISD’s own. 


For this research, ISD analysed a constellation of pro-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) actors who have been actively sharing and promoting content online about the Israel-Hamas war targeted at domestic Canadian audiences. Defined in the definitional annex (See Annex: Definition of ‘pro-CCP’ actors), the most relevant sources included in this analysis for sharing content related to the Israel-Hamas conflict in Canada were official accounts (Chinese Embassy pages and Chinese diplomats’ official accounts) and Canadian alternative media outlets. We found the official accounts such as the Chinese Embassy, Chinese consulates and Chinese diplomats based in Canada to be less active around the Israel-Hamas conflict than embassies in other countries. In the US, both the Chinese Embassy and Ambassador Xie Feng regularly share official statements about the situation in Gaza. The alternative media outlets studied in this report heavily promote pro-Palestine content but also perpetuate pro-CCP positions on the human rights situation in Xinjiang and refute allegations of Chinese foreign interference in Canada. 

The analysis is based on content shared by accounts on X (formerly Twitter) between October 2023 and April 2024 falling into the above-mentioned categories. The articles and posts analysed focus on driving support for pro-CCP positions by drawing attention to the atrocities committed in Gaza, and by presenting Canada and the United States as playing a central role in enabling the conflict. In contrast, they claim that Chinese diplomacy is framed as promoting peace, harmony and cooperation between countries. Many posts promote a vision of a multipolar world in which China leads an alternate power structure that is less reliant on Western ideals and trade. 

Key Findings 

Official Chinese state accounts have been less active around the Israel-Hamas conflict than embassies in other countries, such as the United States. 

Actors sympathetic to China present Canada and the United States as key enablers of the conflict in Gaza, presenting China in contrast as a diplomatic force for peace in the region and globally. 

Western countries are presented by these actors as hypocritical for criticising China’s actions in the Xinjiang province while ignoring what is presented as ‘the real genocide’ in Gaza.  

Background: Chinese Foreign Influence Campaigns in Canada 

Among the range of foreign actors conducting interference campaigns in Canada, the Canadian Foreign Interference Commission described China as “the most significant threat” citing the scope of its activities and its resources.  

Canada’s diverse population and large diaspora groups, some of which maintain strong ties to their home countries, are frequently targeted by foreign interference operations. This is especially true for those vocally opposed to their home country’s government. A top-secret intelligence report published in April 2024 revealed that China may have interfered in the 2019 and 2021 Canadian general elections and had spread false narratives targeting Conservative Party candidates who had criticised China’s human rights record. At the same time, pro-CCP actors have cultivated relationships with political candidates and incumbents who seem supportive of their viewpoints. 

In Canada, pro-CCP actors have also expanded their influence through diaspora community organisations, which are present in all larger Canadian cities with a sizeable population of Chinese descent. Chinese-Canadian activists in Vancouver and Toronto have warned that community organisations have become increasingly fearful of offending the Chinese government. Based on ISD analysis, these Chinese diaspora groups typically hold offline community events and largely communicate through private channels. 

A briefing to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on foreign interference threats to Canada’s democratic institutions stated that the country had to prioritise national security, intelligence, law enforcement and defense. The briefing warned that Canada has fallen behind its allies in these areas and in its ability to share information about possible targets of pro-CCP campaigns. Unlike the US and Australia, Canada currently lacks a foreign influence registry1 and the ability to define criminal offences related to foreign interference operations.  

Groups of Actors Conducting Pro-CCP Information Operations in Canada after 7 October 

The following section outlines the key groups of Chinese official, state-affiliated and potentially state-affiliated actors, and generally pro-Chinese state Canadian actors engaged in pro-CCP information operations in Canada following the 7 October attack.  

Previous ISD research in other contexts has shown that Chinese diplomats (official pro-CCP accounts) and state-affiliated media have responded to events and media reports about the Israel-Hamas conflict. Dominant narratives have included highly engaged posts by Chinese diplomats and Chinese state-affiliated media attacking Western media coverage of the situation. These narratives also denounce the US for benefiting economically from the conflict and have accused Western politicians and mainstream media of ‘turning a blind eye’ to the situation of Palestinians.  

Chinese Diplomatic Accounts  

In Canada, Chinese diplomatic accounts have been less active in pushing narratives about the Israel-Hamas conflict compared to other countries. In the US, both the Chinese Embassy and Chinese Ambassador Xie Feng regularly post statements about the situation. By contrast, the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa has only published one since 7 October 2023. The post links to an article from CGTN, a state-run Chinese media outlet, outlining the superiority of Chinese diplomacy, which is supposedly based on mutual benefit, common development and humanity. This is compared to US diplomacy, which the article claims is based on power and only serves American values and interests. The conflict in Gaza and US support for Israel is used as an example to illustrate the alleged shortcomings of American foreign policy. The Chinese Consulate in Montreal published a similar post outlining the superiority of Chinese diplomacy, but the Chinese Consulate General in Toronto and the Chinese Consulate General in Vancouver notably did not.  

Canadian Alternative Media Outlets 

Canadian alternative media outlets such as the Canada Files and various influencers have published a high volume of content about the Israel-Gaza conflict. Many of their narratives have previously appeared in Chinese state media or could be labelled as ‘China-friendly’. 

The Canada Files (X: 8K followers, Facebook: 2.1K followers, Instagram: 556 followers, Telegram: 521 subscribers, TikTok: 15 followers) is an alternative media outlet which claims to pursue “anti-imperialist journalism challenging the ‘Canadian empire’” and to provide unique investigative reporting on the country’s foreign policy. ISD research has found that it has published articles conveying narratives similar to those previously found on Chinese state-affiliated media. ISD has also observed that its posts were shared by Chinese diplomats.  

The Canada Files has published articles and shared posts which attempt to refute allegations of information interference by pro-CCP actors in Canada. They claim instead that the Canadian government is manipulating its own citizens while blaming foreign actors. The Canada Files has also shared posts containing anti-Uyghur narratives and refuting accusations of genocide taking place in Xinjiang, the northwestern region where China has been accused of committing crimes against humanity against the Uyghur population and other mostly-Muslim ethnic groups.  

The reporting of The Canada Files focuses on Canada’s role in the Israel-Hamas conflict. Their posts and articles identify Canada, along with specific political parties and politicians, as key enablers of the ‘Israeli genocide in Gaza.’ 

Figure 1: A post on X from The Canada Files reporting on Zionists attacking pro-Palestine protests against the sale of illegal Israeli settlements.  

Spotlight on Pro-CCP Narratives Related to the Israel-Hamas conflict 

This section provides an overview of dominant narratives around the Israel-Hamas war that have been shared by official and state-affiliated pro-CCP accounts, as well as Canadian alternative media outlets supportive of pro-CCP narratives. 

Narrative 1: ‘The extent of the destruction in Gaza underlines the US’ failure as a global world leader’ 

Official Chinese state actor accounts and Chinese state-affiliated media outlets in Canada have used the Israel-Hamas war to outline what they present as differences between Western and Chinese values, presenting China as a peacemaker. They claim Chinese foreign policy and diplomacy are characterised by “China’s sense of responsibility in sharing development dividends with the rest of the world for joint progress”. China is said to condemn the war crimes committed in Gaza and stand “on the right side of history”. 

By contrast, the US is painted as failing to maintain global peace and stability in its role as the leading superpower by providing one-sided support to Israel. These accounts often claim that US foreign policy and diplomacy is always centred on “power”, “a position of strength” and “US values and interests”, from which the US “contains its rivals, coerces straddlers and pressures its allies”. 

While the US is the main target of these accusations, pro-CCP actors have also extended this narrative to other Western countries. In Canada, The Canada Files has shared posts attributing the situation in Gaza to the Canadian government’s failure to address the war and accusing it of actively supporting the conflict. 

 

 

Figure 2: A post by the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa on X stating that no matter what issues the world has been facing “China has all along stood firmly on the right side of history and on the side of human progress”. 

These narratives align with ISD’s observations in other geographic contexts. In recent months, pro-CCP actors have argued that the West is ‘on the wrong side of history’ for its support of Israel, using state-media outlets and diplomats as well as covert campaigns to deliver this message. By reporting and posting pro-Palestine content, the narratives support the CCP’s push for an alternate global power structure characterised by multipolarity, with China at the helm. 

Narrative 2: ‘The West is hypocritical in accusing China of conducting genocide while supporting war crimes in Gaza’ 

Official, state-affiliated, and ‘generally pro-state’ (see Definitional Annex)  pro-CCP and China-sympathetic actors globally have engaged in a variety of tactics to shape global public discourse on China’s repression of Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region with the goal of amplifying Beijing’s preferred narrative. One of these tactics is to engage in “whataboutism” and use false equivalencies to portray critics of the CCP’s policies in Xinjiang as “hypocritical”. 

To this end, since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war, pro-CCP actors globally have accused the West of operating a double standard for their criticism of the human rights situation in the region of Xinjiang, while at the same time turning a blind eye to the ‘real genocide’ in Gaza.  

 

Figure 3: A word cloud of most common words occurring in posts by global pro-CCP accounts mentioning ‘Gaza’ and ‘Xinjiang’.

The word cloud in Figure 3 shows the most common words and expressions occurring in posts by global pro-CCP actors mentioning both ‘Gaza’ and ‘Xinjiang’. Several terms highlight the prevalence of this narrative comparing the two, such as ‘defame China’, ‘fabricating’, ‘fake’, ‘lying about Xinjiang’, and ‘real genocide in Gaza’. 

Figure 4: A post by self-described Chinese journalist Li Jingjing stating that the US and Israel are accusing China of conducting a genocide in Xinjiang, while in fact they are carrying out a ‘real genocide in Gaza’.

This narrative has been found regularly in sources across the globe. There are also instances of actors in Canada making use of narratives around the Israel-Hamas war to directly attack overseas Uyghur communities, including making comparisons between Uyghurs and ‘Zionists’, with ‘Zionists’ being used as a derogatory term for those who defend the actions of the Israeli government.  

In an October 2023 video, a Canadian YouTuber referenced a 2017 article from The Times of Israel which suggested that “Uighur militants in Syria look to Zionism as model for their homeland”. The YouTuber regularly appears on Chinese state-controlled media, publishes videos refuting the allegations of human rights abuses by the Chinese government in Xinjiang and self-describes as “opposing the propaganda war against China”. In the video, he says that “Many overseas Uyghurs look at Israel’s apartheid system and ethno-religious state as a model for what they’d like to achieve in Xinjiang” and that “[Uyghurs] want Xinjiang to be cleansed of all ethnic non-Turkic minorities”. He uses this article, as well as the fact that the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) condemned the attacks by Hamas, as evidence that the WUC is siding with Israel because it is US-funded. 

Figure 5: Video of a Canadian influencer attacking the World Uyghur congress.

Conclusion 

Since 7 October, a variety of Chinese official state actors and Chinese state-affiliated media have been sharing narratives about the Israel-Hamas conflict. These narratives seem designed to seed anti-US and anti-Western sentiment by presenting Canada and the United States as key enablers of the conflict in Gaza. Pro-CCP actors have also sought to present China as a peacekeeper seeking to create harmony and cooperation between countries. This is part of the CCP’s broader communication strategy to promote a ‘multipolar’ world in which China has a more significant foreign policy role.  

Annex: Definition of ‘pro-CCP’ actors 

ISD defines ‘pro-CCP’ as actors and narratives supporting the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In this analysis, ISD distinguishes between: 

  • Official accounts, i.e. Official government sources and diplomatic accounts; 
  • State-affiliated accounts, i.e. Overtly state-owned media, including media with majority or controlling stakes belonging to the state, as well as staff authors working for such state-owned media; 
  • Potentially state-directed accounts, i.e. Sources which are not overtly state-affiliated but there are indicators or evidence that they are directed or funded by the state; 
  • Generally pro-state accounts, i.e. Sources that are not affiliated with the state but amplify content and narratives from official accounts and state-owned outlets. Accounts were included in this category if they consistently shared links to state-affiliated sources, quotes from state officials or repeated narratives that have previously been identified as distinctively originating from the state, particularly false and misleading claims. Thresholds for this category were set to exclude accounts sharing pro-state content with critical comments. 

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