In a rapidly escalating diplomatic tussle, China announced this week that it would expel Canada’s consul in Shanghai. The move was a retort to Ottawa’s decision to oust a Chinese diplomat implicated in an alleged intimidation attempt against a Canadian legislator.
The diplomatic ejections have hurled the two countries into a new vortex of tension, exacerbating their already strained relations.
The turmoil comes on the heels of Canada’s outcry over claims that Chinese intelligence aimed to slap sanctions on Member of Parliament Michael Chong and his kin in Hong Kong. Chong had sponsored a motion denouncing Beijing’s actions in Xinjiang as genocide, which allegedly put him on China’s radar.
In a swift response, Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly revealed that Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei, based in Toronto, had purportedly been involved in the plot and was now required to leave Canada. Joly emphasised Canada’s resolve, stating, “We will not tolerate any form of foreign interference in our internal affairs.”
China’s Foreign Ministry denounced Zhao’s expulsion on Tuesday, subsequently commanding Canadian consul Jennifer Lynn Lalonde to depart China by May 13. In a statement, the ministry declared Lalonde persona non grata, terming it a “reciprocal countermeasure” to Canada’s action.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin admonished Canada to desist from “unreasonable provocations,” issuing a stern warning about potential “resolute and forceful retaliatory measures.”
AFP journalists reported seeing a solitary police vehicle parked outside the consulate office building in Shanghai, but operations inside seemed to be running as usual.
Canada’s foreign ministry and its embassy in Beijing declined to comment on the AFP’s inquiries.
In a statement on Monday, Joly reiterated the Canadian government’s commitment to safeguarding democracy, cautioning foreign diplomats in Canada against overstepping boundaries or facing expulsion.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is currently facing mounting pressure to adopt a tougher stance against China, particularly in light of recent allegations that China had attempted to influence Canada’s 2019 and 2021 elections in favor of Trudeau’s party.
The diplomatic standoff between Beijing and Ottawa has been taut since Canada’s arrest of a top Huawei executive in 2018 and China’s subsequent detention of two Canadians, perceived as retaliation. Though all detainees have since been released, the mutual accusations persist, with China criticizing Canada for aligning with Washington’s China policy and Canada accusing China of interference.
Following China’s ambassador’s summons last week over the fresh interference allegations, Beijing dismissed the accusations as “groundless slander and defamation.”
On Monday, MP Chong expressed his disappointment with the government’s delayed response, stating that it should not have required a targeted attack on a Parliament member to trigger such a diplomatic reaction. He emphasized the severity of the situation, painting a picture of Canada as “a playground for foreign interference.”