Critics accuse China of using federally-funded Canadian think tank to bolster its green image

The think tank has been working with the Chinese Communist Party for four years and is headed by the former director of President Xi Jinping's office.

Critics accuse China of using federally-funded Canadian think tank to bolster its green image
AP Photo/Andy Wong
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A Winnipeg-based climate think tank organization has been working directly with a Chinese state agency, running off of funding from the Canadian federal government and led by former Xi Jinping director.

Shortly after the seemingly retaliatory detainment of two Canadian citizens by the Chinese government in 2019, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) began serving as the secretariat for the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development.

At its head is Ding Xuexiang, vice premier of the Chinese Communist Party and a former office director for President Xi Jinping.

Proponents of this collaboration justify the $1.5 million in federal funding from the Canadian government as a global good, pointing to China’s position atop carbon emissions output rankings and the necessity to form partnerships to promote sustainability and reduce emissions. Critics, however, push back against the idea that IISD’s role in the so-called partnership has anything to do with sustainability.

“It is, above all, a political institution and its purpose is to bring in money and legitimacy to China’s often feeble attempts at combating local pollution and climate change overall,” Czech sinologist Filip Jirous told the National Post in an email interview. “By making foreigners and foreign organizations invest in this political venture, they effectively silence them.”

Given its economic might, Dave Mulroney, Canada’s ambassador to Beijing from 2009 to 2012, has said there’s “no way” a country with as much power as China should require the assistance of the Canadian government and adjacent organizations to manage its affairs.

“Canada’s funding is, I believe, a rather pathetic way of keeping our foot in the door in Beijing,” said Mulroney. “Unfortunately, it also helps sustain the fiction that China is somehow unable to act in its own self-interest, much less in ours.”

Still, Canada continues to work closely with this organization, with Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault on his way to meet with the council this week.

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