U.S. lawmakers praise MP Michael Chong's 'courage' in calling out China meddling

U.S. politicians praised a Canadian MP during a Washington appearance on China meddling. Conservative Michael Chong — the target of an alleged foreign interference campaign by China — told his story from a rare podium: Capitol Hill in Washington. 

'Foreign interference is a serious national security threat to Canada,' Chong told bipartisan committee

Chong sitting and gesturing while speaking, as people behind him listen or take notes.
Conservative MP Michael Chong, testifying Tuesday before U.S. lawmakers on Capitol Hill, at a hearing on China's foreign interference. (U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China)

American politicians showered a Canadian colleague with praise as Conservative MP Michael Chong told his personal story Tuesday in Washington.

At a Capitol Hill hearing on China's foreign interference, the MP was invited to testify about his first-hand experience as the target of an alleged political campaign by China.

"It's not easy to stand up for freedom. It takes a lot of courage," one Republican congressman, Ryan Zinke, told him. A Republican senator, Dan Sullivan of Alaska, said: "I just want to let you know how much we admire and appreciate it."

It was a rare cross-border political phenomenon, with a sitting member of one Parliament, Canada's, testifying before legislators in another country.

Foreign interference a 'serious national security threat' to Canada, Chong says

Entering the meeting, Chong told reporters he had two goals. The first was to share stories: both his own and those of others belonging to Chinese diaspora communities in Canada whom he said are vulnerable to to intimidation and, unlike him, often suffer in silence.

His second objective, he said, was to talk about possible policy solutions, including potential foreign-interference legislation and a new registry of foreign agents in Canada, like those that already exist in the U.S. and Australia. Canada's Liberal government has launched public consultations on a proposed foreign agent registry with legislation expected to be tabled by the end of the year, but critics say it's taking too long.

"Foreign interference is a serious national security threat to Canada," Chong told the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, which is made up of Democrats and Republicans from the House of Representatives, the Senate and presidential appointees. 

"It threatens our economy, our long-term prosperity, our social cohesion, our Parliament and our elections."

Chong said allied nations have to work more closely together on policies to counter transnational repression. He suggested stronger money-laundering laws; faster approvals for mining projects, to lessen reliance on Chinese minerals; a Canadian ban on imports of forced-labour goods, as the U.S. has; emulating Taiwan's nimble strategies for countering China's online influence campaigns; and cutting off funding for joint research partnerships with Chinese citizens on sensitive technologies.

Chong described how a political campaign against him began after he started speaking out against Canada's use of Huawei technology, and after he condemned Beijing's treatment of its Muslim Uyghur minority, calling it a genocide. 

He learned earlier this year that Chinese officials were gathering details about his relatives living in China. He said he was also threatened and deluged with a co-ordinated smear campaign on social media. 

WATCH | Michael Chong tells U.S. committee disinformation spread by China is 'corrosive':

Disinformation spread by China is 'corrosive,’ MP Michael Chong says

22 days ago
Duration 2:36
Featured VideoConservative MP Michael Chong, who is in the U.S. to appear at the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, described his own experience — and how he thinks democracies can respond.

When a congressman asked Chong whether the Canadian government was supporting him, he replied that things have been better since the spring, when he had criticized the Trudeau government for failing to inform him of intelligence regarding the alleged targeting of his family.

"Yes, they have been supportive of me in recent months," Chong said.

Before his appearance Tuesday, Chong met with Canada's ambassador to the U.S., Kirsten Hillman. He said she, too, was supportive — and did not attempt to set any boundaries about what he should, or shouldn't, say on foreign soil.

A man with dark hair gestures while shown on screen, speaking, in a large room.
Chong said several members of Chinese diaspora communities in Canada have also been affected by foreign intimidation. (Alexander Panetta/CBC)

The Republican chair of the commission, Rep. Chris Smith, of New Jersey, described the alleged Chinese treatment of Chong as "unacceptable and outrageous." 

"As a fellow legislator, my colleagues and I are appalled," Smith said to Chong before he began speaking. "We welcome you. Please consume how much time you like." 

The context for Tuesday's hearing is an effort by some lawmakers to get a bill passed targeting transnational repression in the U.S. Democratic co-chair Sen. Jeff Merkley talked about the bill during the hearing. 

'This is about the future of the free world'

The hearing unfolded on a busy day in Washington. News broke during the hearing that Republicans are opening impeachment hearings into President Joe Biden over his family business dealings.

Also of interest to the committee, the United Kingdom was being rocked by a spy scandal, as a parliamentary researcher involved in China policy was arrested on suspicion of working for China. The researcher, a British citizen, denies the charge.

Other witnesses speaking at the hearing were Rushan Abbas, a Uyghur-American activist; Laura Harth, whose group Safeguard Defenders has chronicled the presence of so-called Chinese police stations in numerous countries, including Canada; and Yana Gorokhovskaia, a Canadian-educated researcher at the U.S. government-funded democracy group Freedom House.

Abbas described how her sister and aunt were arrested on the same day, 1,400 kilometres apart, and sent to detention camps. This happened a few days after Abbas gave a speech in the U.S. about abuses against the Uyghur minority, in 2018.

She said he sister, a retired medical doctor, and her aunt, a retired schoolteacher, both speak fluent Mandarin and don't need the vocational training supposedly offered in those Xinjiang region camps.

In an interview, she said she fears it was done to punish her. She lamented that the authoritarianism she thought she escaped 34 years ago, when she left China, is creeping across international borders.

"This is not just about the Uyghurs anymore, or just some freedom of speech," Abbas told CBC News. 

"This is about the future of the free world that's being at stake. ... If we don't take tangible action ... it will be our children and our grandchildren who will pay the consequences of that illiberal world." 


Alexander Panetta is a Washington-based correspondent for CBC News who has covered American politics and Canada-U.S. issues since 2013. He previously worked in Ottawa, Quebec City and internationally, reporting on politics, conflict, disaster and the Montreal Expos.