The head of a British Columbia-based group that says it is a “non-political” organization helping Chinese integrate into Canadian society travelled to Beijing to meet President Xi Jinping at a government conference this week.
Chinese state media videos and photos show Canadian Community Service Association president Niu Hua attending the “10th Conference for Friendship of Overseas Chinese Associations,” hosted by the state council’s overseas Chinese affairs office.
Niu is seen applauding with the group on Monday during Xi’s entry to the conference, which state media says involved representatives from 130 countries, and is also seen in a group picture with the Chinese leader.
Chinese state media says Shi Taifeng — head of the Chinese United Front Work Department’s central committee — told conference attendees that they serve as “an important bridge and bond" between China and the rest of the world.
Shi told the groups they are “fresh troops” in China’s effort to develop a "shared future for mankind" as part of the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
Niu has not responded to requests for comment, but his Chinese-language WeChat social media account shared state-media depictions of the meeting and photographs of him outside the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square, where the meeting with Xi took place.
The Canadian Community Service Association says on its website that it was established in 2002 to promote integration and “the spirit of community service" among Chinese and other multicultural communities, organizing activities such as fundraising drives for natural disasters.
It says it is "non-profit, non-religious, and non-political," and has nearly 20,000 members.
In March, the group hosted a banquet to welcome new Chinese consul general Yang Shu to Vancouver.
In January, it staged a spring festival gala attended by an array of Canadian federal, provincial and municipal politicians, several of whom spoke at the event and posed for photos with Niu.
One of the speakers at the January event, Senator Yuen Pau Woo, said in a written response that Niu’s participation in a Chinese government conference attended by its head of state does not mean the group is political in nature.
Woo said the current political climate, where possible Chinese interference in Canadian politics has come under intense scrutiny, was driven largely by racism and represented a dangerous “slippery slope.”
“Did you hear that hundreds of Canadians met with (United States) President (Joe) Biden on his recent visit to Canada, including numerous heads of non-political organizations?” Woo said.
“Would you ask the same question if a Caucasian Canadian head of a non-political organization — say the president of a business group or a university — went to Beijing and met with President Xi?”
On Monday, Canada declared Toronto-based Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei "persona non grata'' after the Canadian Security Intelligence Service said he was involved in a plot to intimidate Conservative MP Michael Chong and his relatives in Hong Kong.
China responded by declaring Canadian diplomat Jennifer Lynn Lalonde, a consul in Shanghai, "persona non grata" and asked her to leave the country before May 13.
— With files from Nono Shen
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 9, 2023.
Chuck Chiang, The Canadian Press