Skip to main content

The Chinese Ambassador's comments mark a hardening of his tone from two weeks ago, when he said such a move would harm relations but stopped short of threatening retaliation.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

China’s new envoy to Canada warned that Beijing will launch tough countermeasures against Canada should Parliament act on a planned Senate motion calling for sanctions against Chinese leaders.

Canadian senators Leo Housakos and Thanh Hai Ngo plan to table a motion next week calling on the Trudeau government to impose sanctions on Chinese officials connected to human-rights abuses. Of particular concern to international observers is China’s activity in Hong Kong and in the western Xinjiang region.

“If it happens, it certainly will be a very serious violation of Chinese domestic affairs,” Ambassador Cong Peiwu told reporters Thursday in Montreal. “I think it would cause serious damage to our bilateral relations. So certainly we will make … very firm countermeasures to this.”

Mr. Cong’s comments mark a hardening of his tone from two weeks ago, when he was asked during a roundtable meeting with reporters in Ottawa how China would respond if Canada moved toward sanctions. At that time, he said such a move would harm relations but he stopped short of threatening retaliation.

Mass protests for greater democracy and autonomy have rocked Hong Kong for more than five months, with escalating violence and fears that China will ratchet up its response to end the unrest. In Xinjiang, Western scholars say Chinese authorities have set up internment camps to subject as many as a million people – many of them Uyghurs, a largely Muslim ethnic group – to forced political indoctrination.

U.S. President Donald Trump last month signed legislation that backs Hong Kong protesters and permits sanctions against any officials deemed responsible for human-rights abuses. The U.S. legislation says Washington should work with allies such as Canada “to promote democracy and human rights in Hong Kong."

Chinese diplomats have been given new instructions to promote Beijing’s view more aggressively and display stronger “fighting spirit” in the face of international challenges, Reuters reported this week. China’s Foreign Ministry also recently launched a Twitter account.

That spirit was evident Thursday, as Mr. Cong told people gathered at a lunch organized by the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations that the international community should not interfere in what China considers to be its internal affairs.

“The Chinese government and people are determined in safeguarding our nation’s sovereignty, security and development interests,” he said.

Mr. Cong said it is in Canada’s interest to see China restore order and end the protests gripping Hong Kong. The Canadian government estimates that some 300,000 Canadians live in the special administrative region and several Canadian businesses also operate there.

On the Xinjiang issue, Mr. Cong characterized the regional government’s actions there as an effort to combat terrorism and extremism, and help people who have been “brainwashed.” He said an increasing number of countries now support China’s Xinjiang policies, many of them Muslim states.

Relations between Canada and China have been tense since Dec. 1, 2018, when Canadian police arrested Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou at Vancouver’s airport at the request of the United States. She is charged in the U.S. with bank fraud and accused of misleading HSBC about Huawei’s business in Iran.

After Ms. Meng’s arrest, China detained two Canadians, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor. It has since accused them of espionage. While Ms. Meng is free on bail and living in her $10-million Vancouver home, the two men remain incarcerated.

Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor are not being denied any rights under Chinese laws, Mr. Cong told reporters, adding they received a visit last month from Canada’s new ambassador to China, Dominic Barton.