Canada Expels Chinese Diplomat, Risking Retaliation in Feud
(Bloomberg) — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has expelled a Chinese envoy from Canada, a move that could prompt economic or diplomatic backlash from President Xi Jinping.
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The envoy, Zhao Wei, was named in a Globe and Mail report last week that cited a leaked Canadian intelligence document. The newspaper reported the document, dated July 2021, revealed the diplomat was looking into penalizing Conservative lawmaker Michael Chong over his hard-line positions on the Beijing government, punishment that could entail sanctioning Chong’s relatives in Hong Kong.
Zhao has been ordered to leave the country, Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said Monday in a statement.
“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 behavior, they will be sent home,” she said. “This decision has been taken after careful consideration of all factors at play.”
China’s embassy in Ottawa immediately said it would retaliate.
In a statement posted to its website in Chinese, an unnamed spokesperson said the Trudeau government’s move “seriously violates not only international law and the basic norms of international relations” and “deliberately undermines China-Canada relations.”
The embassy said it has lodged a formal protest. “China will resolutely take countermeasures, and Canada will bear all the consequences arising therefrom,” the spokesperson said.
The May 1 story in the Globe and and Mail kicked off a firestorm over why Chong hadn’t been informed that China was targeting his family, and why the diplomat was still allowed to work at the consulate in Toronto.
Trudeau told reporters he was never briefed on the matter, as the country’s intelligence agency determined it wasn’t serious enough to require notifying him. However, conflicting information emerged that at least one of Trudeau’s security advisers had been informed, even if the prime minister himself wasn’t.
Joly’s statement Monday was released as Canadian lawmakers were voting on a Conservative motion that called on the government to expel all Chinese diplomats responsible for foreign interference. The non-binding motion passed despite members of the governing Liberal Party voting against it.
In remarks to the House of Commons shortly after the diplomat was expelled, Chong maintained that the Trudeau government had failed him. “It is a serious thing to intimidate a member of this House, directly or indirectly, in order to affect the outcome of a debate, in order to affect the outcome of votes,” Chong said.
The rise of authoritarianism has put democracies on their back heels over the past decade, he added. In that context, Chong said it’s important to “set an example for all the world to see that we will not be intimidated, that we will not be cowed and that we will stand up for the democratic rights of Canadians.”
Speaking to reporters outside the legislature, Chong said he had purposely cut off contact with his family in Hong Kong in order to protect them.
On Friday, Trudeau said that expelling the diplomat would be a “big step,” and that Joly was examining the potential consequences.
The foreign minister told a parliamentary committee she was assessing the potential blowback from a diplomatic expulsion and specifically mentioned the “Two Michaels” crisis, when China detained two Canadians for nearly three years after Canada arrested a Huawei Technologies Co. executive on a US extradition order.
The Chong controversy is just the latest in a series of media reports this year that have alleged China has interfered in Canadian affairs and that Trudeau hasn’t responded strongly enough.
Multiple stories have alleged Trudeau received intelligence briefings on Chinese attempts to meddle in Canada’s 2019 and 2021 elections, which his Liberal Party won. Trudeau has resisted calls for a public inquiry into the matter and has instead appointed a “special rapporteur” to examine the evidence and decide if an inquiry is warranted.
–With assistance from Jacob Gu.
(Updates with response from China’s embassy in 4th paragraph.)
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