Canada expels Chinese diplomat for alleged intimidation of lawmaker
Canada expels Chinese diplomat for alleged intimidation of lawmaker –
Canada has expelled a Chinese diplomat after an intelligence report accused him of trying to intimidate a Canadian lawmaker critical of China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority.
“Canada has decided to declare persona non grata Mr Zhao Wei,” the Canadian foreign minister, Mélanie Joly, said in a statement on Monday. “The decision has been taken after careful consideration of all factors at play.”
The rare decision to remove an accredited diplomat comes only days after Joly’s office summoned the Chinese ambassador, Cong Peiwu, to express frustration over attempts to meddle in Canada’s domestic politics.
China’s embassy in Ottawa said it “strongly condemn[ed] ” the expulsion, had lodged a protest with the federal government and would “resolutely take countermeasures”.
China had previously warned of retaliation if Canada removed one of its diplomats, underscoring the tense relations between the two nations. Joly acknowledged the likelihood of punitive measures from Beijing when she addressed a parliamentary committee on Thursday, drawing parallels to the way in which two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, were detained as punishment for Canada arresting Meng Wanzhou.
Justin Trudeau’s government has been under growing pressure to respond to China following revelations Zhao was part of an alleged campaign to threaten and harass the Conservative MP Michael Chong, as well has his family in Hong Kong. Trudeau has also frustrated political rivals by giving seemingly contradictory statements about when and if senior staff close to him were briefed by the country’s intelligence agency.
A 2021 report about Chinese influence in Canada by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) included information about potential threats to Chong and his family.
On Monday, Chong said the decision to remove Zhao should have been taken “years ago” and that by failing to act, Canada had become “somewhat of a playground for foreign interference threat activities”.
“My hope is that this sends a clear message to authoritarian states that these kinds of activities are completely incompatible with being a diplomat in this country,” he said.
China says it has never interfered in Canada’s internal affairs and has no interest in doing so. China’s Toronto consulate-general said the report on Chong has “no factual basis and is purely baseless”.
Details of the CSIS report came to light on 1 May, when Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper reported that China sought information about Chong and his family in China in a likely effort to “make an example” of him and deter others from taking positions against the Chinese government.
“We will not tolerate any form of foreign interference,” Joly said on Monday.
Diplomatic expulsions are rare in Canada, highlighting the seriousness with which Ottawa is viewing the situation. The last expulsion was in 2018, when Canada joined more than 20 allies in response to the nerve agent attack in the UK, expelling four diplomats.
The Globe, citing an unnamed national security source, said Zhao was involved in gathering information about Chong, who in 2021 sponsored a successful motion declaring China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority to be genocide.
Chong said he was “profoundly disappointed” to find out about the potential threat to his family in Hong Kong from a newspaper, and criticized Trudeau’s government for inaction. He has repeatedly called for Zhao’s expulsion since the Globe report.
Trudeau said he found out about the intelligence report from the newspaper, and on Wednesday blamed the spy agency for not passing it on to him at the time.
The agency has now been directed to immediately pass on information about threats to members of parliament and their families, Trudeau said on Wednesday.
Canadian media outlets have published several reports, citing anonymous intelligence sources, alleging schemes run by the Chinese government to interfere in Canada’s last two elections. Beijing has denied those allegations.
Trudeau has previously said China attempted to meddle in the 2019 and 2021 votes, but that the efforts did not change the outcome. He has appointed an independent special investigator to look into the allegations.