This won’t be the last time the Canadian government has to choose to damage relations with China. The Liberals are going to have to get used to it.
By the time the decision was announced, on Monday afternoon, it had become inevitable that the Liberal government had to expel Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei, after The Globe reported he was involved in efforts to target the family of Conservative MP Michael Chong over his criticism of Beijing.
That’s foreign interference in Technicolor. Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said the government had to weigh the “consequences” of Beijing’s retaliation, but nearly everyone else bayed for Mr. Zhao to get the boot.
Finally, on Monday afternoon, Ms. Joly declared Mr. Zhao persona non grata and gave him five days to get out of Canada.
Yes, Beijing will reciprocate. The Chinese embassy in Ottawa immediately warned Canada will bear the (unspecified) consequences. And Beijing probably won’t stop at expelling a Canadian diplomat in a simple tit-for-tat move. There will likely be some kind of trade sanctions, official or unofficial, to disrupt business for some Canadian companies. That’s how Beijing rolls.
But expelling Mr. Zhao had become a necessity. And there will be more necessities like it.
When it comes to China, Canada is going to have to get used to consequences. So will the Liberal government.
A few years ago, Chinese government officials would regularly exhort Canadian leaders to seek win-win relationships with Beijing. That’s what China’s then-premier, Li Keqiang, called for when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited China in 2016: Win-win. But now we know Canada will sometimes have to choose lose-lose.
China’s win-win, we found, is often win-win-or-else. Access to markets and a lucrative trade with the world’s second-biggest economy depend on adjusting behaviour to suit Beijing. It’s an effort to extend illiberal Chinese rules into democratic countries. That’s become clear in tenure of President Xi Jinping. It’s a pattern that will be repeated.
In 2020, the Chinese embassy in Australia shared a list of 14 of that country’s “wrong acts,” including banning two Chinese telecoms from its 5G networks, and “antagonistic” reporting by Australian news media. China then launched a variety of punitive trade actions such as putting tariffs on barley and wine.
Canada has already seen what Beijing does when it doesn’t like our rule of law. When Canada detained one Huawei executive at the request of U.S. authorities, Beijing locked up Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
The recent reporting in The Globe and Mail about the Chinese government’s efforts to interfere in Canada’s democracy should make the pattern pretty clear, and nothing more so than punishing a Canadian parliamentarian’s relatives for the things he says in the House of Commons.
That’s an effort to hold Canadian legislators’ opinions hostage. And not just Mr. Chong’s.
There will be consequences for the expulsion. Perhaps Beijing will block Canadian canola, as it does from time to time. Or something else. There could be a new tariff or a sudden, coincidentally discovered health-and-safety issue with a Canadian product. And by now, we know Beijing could also react by victimizing an innocent bystander.
But sometimes Canada will have to choose to weather the damage or it will be held hostage.
Ms. Joly’s delay in ordering the expulsion was explained as planning for what might happen, but it sure made it seem that the government was stalling. “It was the only option in the view of everybody but the Liberals,” said Bloc Québécois MP René Villemure.
The irony about the delay is that declaring a diplomat persona non grata is one of the few things a foreign affairs minister can do without bureaucratic process, more or less with the stroke of a pen. It’s just an order to get out – in this case, within five days, a relatively brusque deadline. It’s a quick way to send a message.
No one should pretend that expelling this one diplomat is a major coup. Individual diplomats care, and the Chinese government will take it as an insult, but Mr. Xi won’t be kept up nights. China will expel a Canadian, or several. They will eventually be replaced. Nobody really wins.
But lose-lose will sometimes be the only choice. It is better than China’s perilous version of win-win. And it’s a choice that Ms. Joly and the Canadian government can expect to face over and again. They will have to get used to the fact that there will be consequences.