Canada expelling Chinese diplomat over alleged legislator threats

Canadian foreign minister says Zhao Wei declared ‘persona non grata’ after report that opposition lawmaker targeted.

‘I have been clear: we will not tolerate any form of foreign interference in our internal affairs,’ Canada Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said on May 8 [File: Monicah Mwangi/Reuters]

Canada is expelling a Chinese diplomat after Zhao Wei was accused of being involved in a campaign to intimidate a Canadian opposition legislator critical of Beijing.

In a statement on Monday, Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said the Canadian government has designated Zhao, a diplomat based in Toronto, “persona non grata”.

“I have been clear: we will not tolerate any form of foreign interference in our internal affairs. Diplomats in Canada have been warned that if they engage in this type of behaviour, they will be sent home,” Joly said.

The Chinese government has rejected the allegations that it interfered in Canada’s internal affairs, saying last week that it has “no interest whatsoever in doing so”.

On Monday, the Chinese embassy in Ottawa released a statement on its website, condemning the expulsion and reiterating its position that Beijing has never meddled in Canada’s domestic affairs. The statement also added that the embassy had lodged a formal complaint with the Chinese government.

“China will resolutely take countermeasures,” the statement warned. “If the Canadian side acts recklessly, China will definitely fight back resolutely and forcefully.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has been under pressure to take action after the Globe and Mail newspaper reported earlier this month that China had sought information about any relatives of a Canadian legislator “who may be located” within its borders.

The move was likely part of an effort to “make an example of this MP and deter others” from taking anti-China positions, the newspaper said, citing Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

While the CSIS report did not name the lawmaker, the Globe said a national security source identified the targeted politician as Michael Chong, a member of the opposition Conservative Party of Canada.

Conservative Party legislator Michael Chong is at the heart of the recent allegations of Chinese interference in Canada [File: Fred Thornhill/Reuters]

China sanctioned Chong in 2021 after he spearheaded a Canadian parliamentary motion condemning Beijing’s treatment of its Uighur Muslim minority as a “genocide” – a charge rejected by the Chinese government for years.

“It shouldn’t have taken this long,” Chong said during a news conference on Monday afternoon, responding to Canada’s announcement that it was blacklisting Zhao, the Chinese diplomat.

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“We have known for years that the PRC [People’s Republic of China] is using its accredited diplomats here in Canada to target Canadians and their families,” Chong said.

“I hope that this makes it clear to not just the PRC but other authoritarian states that have representation here in Canada that this crossing the line of diplomacy into foreign interference threat activities is utterly unacceptable here on Canadian soil.”

The accusations this month have led to renewed tensions between Ottawa and Beijing. The two countries have had frosty relations for several years over a range of issues, including human rights, trade, and the arrests of Canadian and Chinese citizens.

Canada summoned the Chinese ambassador to the country on Friday over the allegations of intimidation against Chong, stressing that it was mulling all necessary measures to defend its sovereignty.

Mao Ning, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, hit back by accusing the Canadian government of advancing a “groundless smear” against China’s diplomatic and consular mission in Canada.

“A handful of Canadian politicians and media have hyped up a fabricated story of ‘China targeting a Canadian lawmaker’, which is nothing but a political stunt that grew out of ideological bias,” Mao said during a news conference last week.

“I want to stress that the Chinese diplomatic and consular personnel in Canada always abide by relevant international conventions and perform their duties in accordance with the law. The Chinese side will take necessary measures to firmly safeguard its own interests.”

Joly, Canada’s foreign minister, said on Monday that decision to blacklist Zhao came “after careful consideration of all factors at play”. “We remain firm in our resolve that defending our democracy is one of the utmost importance,” she said.

But Heather McPherson, a member of the left-wing New Democratic Party, said on Monday that it was “appalling” and “unacceptable” that it took the government as long as it did to declare Zhao “persona non grata”.

“We don’t know if there are other examples” of intimidation, McPherson told reporters. “There are members of the Chinese-Canadian community who have been warning about interference, [who] have been warning about intimidation, for decades.”

Ottawa continues to face calls to investigate other alleged instances of Chinese interference, including attempts to meddle in Canadian elections and the use of covert “police stations” in Canada. Beijing has rejected those allegations, as well.

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