The University of Alberta Students’ Union had to step in to stop inappropriate practices in the presidential election of a controversial Beijing-linked Chinese students’ group on campus, The Epoch Times has learned.
Andre Bourgeois, vice president of student life, says the student union was notified just ahead of the election at the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) in mid-March that the group wasn’t following democratic processes.
“Our bylaws state that all elections need to happen under fair, democratic, and transparent procedures,” Bourgeois said.
He noted, however, that the CSSA’s constitution had been changed so that the president would be decided by various criteria beyond simply the popular vote. These include “an interview, a public speech, and then ultimately a board meeting between the incumbent executive to decide the new president.”
A clause on the online copy of the CSSA’s 2017–2018 constitution says the president “will be determined by the executive committee only.” Another clause says the president is to serve as the CSSA’s “liaison officer” with the Calgary and Vancouver Chinese consulates.
Bourgeois says he doesn’t know how long this process has been in place but notes that the current president was selected using the process.
A look through copies of the CSSA’s constitutions online shows that the problematic clauses have been in place since at least the 2015–2016 school year.
Bourgeois says the current CSSA executives have been told that such undemocratic processes have to stop.
CSSAs and its leaders have been mired in controversy over allegations that they are under the direct control of the Chinese embassies and consulates.
A Chinese-language post on the website of the University of Alberta CSSA says it is “the only association in the university that is certified by the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China.”
The post is typical of other CSSAs around the world. The online profiles of many CSSAs, such as the one at the University of Toronto, indicate that these groups were founded under the leadership of the Chinese Consulate.
The University of Alberta CSSA did not respond to The Epoch Times’ requests for comment.
J. Li, a former president of the CSSA at the University of California Technology, who didn’t wish to provide his full first name, told The Epoch Times that “giving the association executives the final say when installing the next president can be a mechanism allowing the Chinese Embassy to continue to maintain its direct control over the CSSA, because typically that final say of the CSSA leaders represents the voice of the Chinese missions.”
Li said that “such changes to the constitution turn a democratic student organization into an organization that will continue to be controlled by the Chinese consulates and embassies.”
In a speech last year, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said CSSAs “alert Chinese consulates and embassies when Chinese students, and American schools, stray from the Communist Party line.”
In 2011, Cambridge University in the U.K. disbanded the CSSA on its campus after the group decided it would keep its president for a second year without an election. Students and insiders at the university told The Epoch Times at the time that the Chinese Embassy had asked the president to stay on for another year.
The CSSA at Columbia University in New York was shut down in 2015 for “ongoing violations,” according to university officials, who described the violations as financial and organizational in nature.
A 2018 Foreign Policy report based on interviews with CSSA heads and internal documents said that Chinese consular officials regularly communicate with CSSA leaders and that the associations regularly receive funding from Chinese consulates. The report also says an umbrella group overseeing the CSSAs in the southwest of the United States requires all CSSA presidential candidates to have approval from the Chinese Consulate before elections take place.
CSSAs are also known to join rallies organized by the Chinese embassies and consulates to welcome Chinese officials to their host countries, as well as oppose events and issues that the Chinese Communist Party is against.
Recently in Canada, the CSSA at McMaster University issued a statement condemning a human rights event in February in support of Uyghur Muslims being persecuted in China. As previously reported by The Epoch Times, online discussions showed Chinese students saying they were asked by the Chinese Consulate to report their observations to the consulate and to contact the CSSA.
This incident was one of three recent events on Canadian campuses where the Chinese communist regime was reported to have attempted to exert influence in Canadian universities. In March, Chinese officials tried to pressure a human rights research institute to cancel an event at Concordia University that featured an exiled Uyghur Muslim. In another case in February, a University of Toronto Scarborough student of Tibetan ethnicity was the victim of online abuse after being elected president of the student union because she had spoken out against the Chinese regime’s abuses in Tibet.
CSSAs have also been linked with espionage activities. In the mid-2000s, the CSSA at a Belgian university was reportedly found to have acted as a front for industrial espionage for China.
In another case from the 1990s and early 2000s, Canadian immigration officials accused Yong Jie Qu, a Chinese student association leader at Concordia University, of engaging “in acts of espionage and subversion.” Authorities said he identified pro-democracy students and reported information about them to the Chinese Embassy.
With reporting by Gary Bai and Limin Zhou.