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China expels Canadian diplomat in retaliatory move

Published May 9, 2023last updated May 9, 2023

Beijing-Ottawa relations have come to a head after a report last week revealed that Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei intimidated a Canadian lawmaker and his family.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Melanie Joly appears as a witness at a standing committee on foreign affairs and international development in Ottawa
Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said the decision to expel the Chinese diplomat was taken after careful considerationImage: Sean Kilpatrick/empics/picture alliance

China expelled a diplomat from Canada's consulate in Shanghai on Tuesday in retaliation for Canada expelling a Chinese diplomat a day earlier.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Canadian diplomat Jennifer Lynn Lalonde had been asked to leave the country by May 13 in what it described as a "reciprocal countermeasure to Canada's unscrupulous move."

"We advise the Canadian side to immediately stop its unreasonable provocations," Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said after the tit-for-tat consular expulsions. "If the Canadian side doesn't listen to this advice and acts recklessly, (China) will take resolute and forceful retaliatory measures, and all consequences will be borne by the Canadian side."

It comes after Canada announced on Monday that will expel a diplomat from the Chinese consulate in Toronto for interfering with the country's democratic matters.

"Canada has decided to declare persona non grata Mr. Zhao Wei," Canada's Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said 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 in the statement, adding that the decision to expel the diplomat was taken after careful consideration. 

The incident occurred after The Globe and Mail newspaper reported last week that China was targeting Canadian lawmaker Michael Chong and his family in Hong Kong after he signed a parliamentary motion condemning Beijing's treatment of Uyghur Muslims as a genocide. The report cited a top-secret document from 2021.

Zhao was involved in this intimidation, according to the report. A person familiar with the matter told the AFP news agency that Zhao had five days to leave the country.

What did China say?

After the Canadian Foreign Ministry's announcement on Monday, a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Ottawa released a statement claiming that Canada had "seriously violated international law, basic norms governing international relations and the related bilateral agreements, and sabotaged the China-Canada relations," by ousting their diplomat.

"The Chinese side strongly condemns and firmly opposes this, and has lodged stern protest with the Canadian side. The Chinese side will take resolute countermeasures and all consequences arising therefrom shall be borne by the Canadian side," it went on to say.

The spokesperson further accused Canada of joining the "anti-China" agenda of the United States.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, centre left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, centre right, join fellow leaders as they arrive to the G20 leaders summit in Nusa Dua, Bali
Relations between China and Canada have been steadily worsening since 2018 when Canada arrested a top Huawei executiveImage: Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via ZUMA Press/picture alliance

Meanwhile, Beijing denied any interference in other countries' internal affairs calling the allegations "totally groundless" and a smear campaign. "If the Canadian side acts wantonly and arbitrarily, it will be met with China's resolute and strong reactions."

Worsening Beijing-Ottawa relations

Relations between the two countries have been tense since 2018 when Canada arrested a top Huawei executive and China, in retaliation, detained two Canadian nationals.

Though all three have been released, ties between the two nations have not improved.

This, followed by recent revelations that China sought to sway Canadian elections in 2019 and 2021, pushed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take a hard line regarding Beijing. 

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zc, mk/jsi (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)