Following the admission by a Vancouver branch that it had sent surveillance footage of its customers to China, a prominent Chinese restaurant chain in Taiwan has denied sending surveillance footage of its customers to China.
In an April 22 Facebook post, the Haidilao Hot Pot restaurant in Taiwan admitted to recording footage of their customers, but claimed that it was done “primarily to better protect consumers’ dining rights and protection, avoid bad service, and improve service quality.”
The branch also denied using the footage for facial recognition or examination, claiming that it was done in accordance with Taiwanese laws and regulations.
It also said that the recorded videos are only temporarily stored in its branch, will not be retained, and “have never been and will never be backed up outside of Taiwan.”
The restaurant branch’s statement follows a story on April 17 by The Sunday Guardian Live that a manager in Haidilao’s Vancouver, Canada, branch “announced that over 60 surveillance cameras have been mounted in the restaurant at the behest of the Haidilao company, as part of China’s social credit scheme.”
Ryan Pan, the manager, told investigative journalist Ina Mitchell and intelligence expert Scott McGregor that each table in Haidilao’s Vancouver location, which has 30 in total, has two cameras assigned to it in order to control and “punish” workers who do not adhere to Haidilao’s corporate standards and to “people track” the customers. Pan went on to say that footage from those cameras was sent to China, but he declined to elaborate further, only saying that it was a “secret.”
The article sparked outrage and a statement from the Taiwanese authorities.
Some argue that the cameras are only useful for safety purposes, and that it is up to the consumer whether or not to eat there again.
Others questioned whether Taiwanese management could refuse to send the surveillance footage if the Chinese headquarters demanded it. Others expressed concern that the footage will only be briefly stored in the branch, and some pointed out that the restaurant cameras are made by a Chinese surveillance company owned by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Haidilao, which was established in China’s Sichuan province in 1994, is one of the largest restaurant chains in China, with over 900 locations worldwide, including the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Taiwan, among others.
It has two locations in Vancouver: one in Richmond and one in the Kitsilano area, which is within walking distance of the house that Huawei provides for workers who are temporarily relocated to the province to assist Meng Wanzhou, the telecommunications giant’s chief financial officer. According to The Sunday Guardian Live, it takes no more than 10 minutes to get to Meng’s mansion and the Chinese consulate’s visa office.
Mitchell claims Beijing chose Pan’s restaurant in Vancouver for “intensive data collection.”
“Vancouver is a conduit for the Chinese Communist Party in North America, where they participate in pervasive international intervention activity, mobilizing overseas United Front units to strategically attract political and business leaders using financial inducements and other incentives to advance the Party’s agenda,” she told the Gatestone Institute, a think tank in the United States.
Charles Burton, a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute who specializes in Chinese affairs, claims the CCP planned to eavesdrop on important conversations in restaurants like Haidilao to further its interests.
“It’s not so much about table manners as it is about who is saying what to whom in the restaurants and who is brought to that restaurant where there are two cameras per table,” Burton explained on The John Batchelor Show on April 21.
Gordon Chang, a respected senior fellow at the Gatestone Institute, described how China’s social credit system functions.
“China collects whatever knowledge it can get its hands on—security cameras and everything else. And they feed them into this social credit scheme, which is supposed to be nationwide, “Chang said alongside Burton on The John Batchelor Show.
“However, every Chinese person is assigned a ranking. And the score is regularly adjusted upwards or downwards based on observed behaviors. But if you’re caught jaywalking, your performance will suffer. For example, if you say nice things about Xi Jinping, your score will rise, “he added.
According to Foreign Policy, China’s State Council officially rolled out the social credit scheme nationally in 2014 with the aim of allowing “the trustworthy to wander anywhere under heaven while making it difficult for the discredited to take a single move.”
Low-score individuals in China, according to Chang, face negative consequences.
“People with low scores have been refused social care, mortgages, and even the right to board trains and planes,” he wrote in the article “China Is Extending Its Totalitarian Controls to the Rest of the World.”
Mitchell told Chang that there are also “interconnected implications for families, colleagues, partners, and companies both in and outside of China.”
Mitchell and McGregor speculated that Haidilao’s “over-the-top” number of surveillance cameras may be a Chinese government-created penetration test to assess “vulnerability, as well as the reactions Canadian law enforcement and the general public show.”
“Passive responses by elected officials, law enforcement, and security intelligence agencies in Canada only help to embolden influence operations, which have traditionally been the norm on which the Chinese base their strategies. The possibility of more technology-based exploitation within Canada would almost certainly increase, “they wrote.
On February 9, David Vigneault, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, issued a warning about the CCP’s threats to Canada’s national security.
“To be clear, the danger does not come from the Chinese people, but from the Chinese government, which is seeking a strategic advantage on all fronts—economic, technical, political, and military—and employing all elements of state power to carry out activities that pose a direct threat to our national security and sovereignty. “We must all fortify our defenses,” he said.