Canada is expelling a Chinese diplomat after Zhao Wei was accused of engaging in a campaign to intimidate a Canadian opposition lawmaker critical of Beijing.
Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said in a statement Monday that the Canadian government had designated Zhao, a diplomat in Toronto, “persona non grata.”
“I was 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,” Joly said.
The Chinese government has rejected allegations that it has interfered in Canada’s domestic affairs, saying last week it has “no interest whatsoever in doing so”.
The Chinese embassy in Ottawa released a statement on its website Monday condemning the expulsion and reiterating its position that Beijing has never interfered in Canada’s domestic affairs. The statement also added that the embassy has lodged a formal complaint with the Chinese government.
“China will take resolute 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 is under pressure to act after the Globe and Mail newspaper reported earlier this month that China had sought information on any family members of a Canadian lawmaker “who may be located within its borders”.
The move was likely part of an effort to “make an example of this MP and dissuade 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.
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 Monday afternoon, in response to Canada’s announcement that it was blacklisting Zhao, the Chinese diplomat.
“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 only the PRC but other authoritarian states that have representation here in Canada that this crossing of the line of diplomacy into foreign interference in threat activities is completely 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 is considering all necessary measures to defend its sovereignty.
Mao Ning, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, hit back by accusing the Canadian government of promoting a “groundless smear” against China’s diplomatic and consular mission in Canada.
Canada has decided to make persona non grata, mr. Zhao Wei, to declare. pic.twitter.com/rZXeNTtdV4
— Mélanie Joly (@melaniejoly) May 8, 2023
“A handful of Canadian politicians and media have raised a fabricated story of ‘China targeting a Canadian lawmaker,’ which is nothing more than a political stunt that grew out of ideological bias,” Mao said last week during a said news conference.
“I want to emphasize that the Chinese diplomatic and consular staff in Canada always adhere to relevant international conventions and perform their duties in accordance with the law. The Chinese side will take the necessary measures to firmly protect its own interests.”
Joly, Canada’s foreign minister, said on Monday that the decision to blacklist Zhao came “after careful consideration of all factors at play”. “We remain firm in our decision that the defense of our democracy is of the utmost importance,” she said.
But Heather McPherson, a member of the left-wing New Democratic Party, said on Monday it was “appalling” and “unacceptable” that it was taking 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 warned of interference, [who] has been warning against intimidation for decades.”
Ottawa continues to receive calls to investigate other alleged cases of Chinese interference, including attempts to interfere in Canadian elections and the use of secret “police stations” in Canada. Beijing has also rejected these allegations.
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