China, Canada in tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats over interference report

Beijing vows to ‘fight back resolutely and forcefully’ but denies that its diplomat intimidated a politician.
By Paul Eckert for RFA
China, Canada in tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats over interference report Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin [left] says Canada has been acting “recklessly,” while Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the country will “not be intimidated” by China.
Associated Press

China expelled a Canadian diplomat in Shanghai on Tuesday, a day after Ottawa announced it would expel a Chinese diplomat accused of trying to intimidate a Canadian politician.

The tit-for-tat expulsions follow years of strained ties between the major Pacific trade partners, and come amid mounting Canadian public concern about Chinese influence operations in the country in the wake of intelligence leaks alleging election interference. The spat also fits a pattern of deteriorating Chinese ties with the U.S. and many of its allies.

China’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement strongly condemning the expulsion of Toronto-based diplomat Zhao Wei, and declared Jennifer Lynn Lalonde, a consul of the Consulate General of Canada in Shanghai, persona non grata as a “reciprocal countermeasure." She must leave by May 13, it said.

"In response to the Canadian side's unreasonable provocation, China has adopted corresponding retaliatory measures," Wang Wenbin, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, told a regular news conference in Beijing. "This was absolutely just and necessary. We urge Canada to immediately stop its unreasonable provocations."

If Canada  continues to "act recklessly", China will "fight back resolutely and forcefully, and the Canadian side must bear all the consequences," Wang added.

Canada would “not be intimidated” by China's reaction, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday.

“We will take whatever action is necessary to continue to protect our democracy and show that we’re standing up for our values and our principles. We understand there is retaliation but we will not be intimidated,” Trudeau said.

Intelligence revelations

Canada's decision to expel Zhao on Monday followed revelations that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) found an accredited Chinese diplomat in the country had been targeting opposition lawmaker Michael Chong and possibly his relatives in China over sponsorship of a successful motion in parliament to condemn China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority group. 

The intelligence was first reported by Canadian daily newspaper the Globe and Mail earlier this month, and follows previous revelations that  attempted to meddle in Canada’s 2019 and 2021 elections that prompted Trudeau to appoint an independent special investigator.

“Like many Canadians, I have family abroad," Chong tweeted. "The PRC’s targeting of family abroad to intimidate and coerce Canadians here at home is a serious, national threat. It undermines social cohesion, and our cherished fundamental rights and freedoms," he wrote on May 1, after the intel was published. Chong also called for Zhao’s expulsion.

Opposition Canadian lawmaker Michael Chong was targeted by a Chinese diplomat over his sponsorship of a motion in parliament to condemn China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority group. Credit: Reuters file

Ottawa “will not tolerate any form of foreign interference in our internal affairs,” Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said on Monday. “Diplomats in Canada have been warned that if they engage in this type of behavior, they will be sent home.”

Beijing has denied all allegations of interference in the politics of Canada, which is home to a large community of immigrants from China and the territories of Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang.

On the sidelines of the Group of 20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia last November, Chinese leader Xi Jinping appeared to criticize Trudeau over media leaks alleging Chinese interference in Canadian politics.

Ottawa “will not tolerate any form of foreign interference in our internal affairs,” Canadian Canada's Foreign Minister Melanie Joly says. Credit: Pool Photo via AP file

Relations between the Canadian and Chinese governments have been strained since Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, a senior executive at the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, in 2018 at the request of Washington. 

Beijing subsequently arrested two Canadians on unsubstantiated spying charges. The standoff ended when the Canadians, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor, were released on the same day Canada allowed Meng to plead out in her case return to China in 2021.

Canada's fractious ties with China often mirror those of the United States and many of its Pacific and European allies, who are also wrestling with alleged Chinese interference – of long-running concerns about security, trade and human rights.

Western countries are now confronting alleged Chinese secret police stations, which Beijing says are offices to help overseas Chinese with administrative affairs, but which human rights groups say are used to spy on dissidents and try to bring them back to China.


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