Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly rejected a visa for a Chinese diplomat in the fall of 2022 because her department determined that Beijing was actually sending a political operative to conduct foreign-interference operations in Canada, according to a federal government source.
In October, China applied for a visa for a new position at its embassy in Ottawa called the International Liaison Department of the Chinese Communist Party. A source said the Department of Global Affairs concluded that the new position was “transparently not a diplomatic position” and likely designed to handle covert political and interference activities.
The source said Global Affairs informed the Chinese embassy that the visa would not be granted. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the source because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.
China has increasingly been in the spotlight over election interference in this country, particularly since The Globe reported Feb. 17, based on secret and top-secret Canadian Security Intelligence Service documents, that China employed a sophisticated strategy to disrupt Canada’s democracy in the 2021 election campaign.
The tactics involved working against Conservative candidates in an attempt to bring about another Liberal minority government. Highly classified documents, seen by The Globe and Global News, also outlined how China tried to elect 11 candidates – nine Liberals and two Conservatives – in the 2019 election.
Under pressure to investigate Beijing’s influence activities, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called for two closed-door probes into Chinese election interference that will be reviewed by a special rapporteur.
In this strained political environment, the Chinese government appears to be trying to smooth relations with Ottawa.
Wang Shouwen, a high-ranking Chinese official, led a delegation to Ottawa this week where he met with senior bureaucrats from several government departments, Global Affairs spokesperson Jason Kung said in a statement. Mr. Wang is a senior Chinese Communist Party official at the Ministry of Commerce and serves as vice-minister of commerce as well as the China International Trade Representative.
The delegation met with David Morrison, deputy minister of foreign affairs, as well as Rob Stewart, deputy minister of international trade, a source said. The Globe is not identifying this source because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
The government declined to identify the officials whom Mr. Wang met with at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and at Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED), which is in charge of vetting foreign takeovers.
Laurie Bouchard, a spokesperson for Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne, said the minister did not attend the meetings.
“ISED officials met with Chinese officials at their request,” Ms. Bouchard said in a statement. “ISED officials reiterated in no uncertain terms that Canada would continue to keep a strong stance on foreign investments from state-owned enterprises.”
Mr. Wang also met Tuesday with Senator Peter Boehm, chair of the Senate committee on foreign affairs and international trade. Mr. Boehm, a former Canadian diplomat named to the Red Chamber by Mr. Trudeau in 2018, said he invited other senators to the meeting but nobody chose to attend.
Conservative Senator Michael MacDonald told The Globe that he turned down the invitation, saying “I wouldn’t be comfortable meeting with the Chinese delegation unless the foreign affairs committee was meeting in public so we could put questions on the record.”
Mr. Boehm said Mr. Wang told him this trip to Canada was not part of a separate visit to the United States, but was focused on Canadian meetings alone.
“They are obviously on a charm offensive of some kind,” Mr. Boehm said.
He said the Chinese officials indicated that Beijing would like Ottawa’s support in its application to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade deal among 11 Pacific Rim states, including Canada. Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China has threatened to invade, has also applied to join the Trans-Pacific pact.
He said Mr. Wang expressed an interest in boosting economic ties and trade with Canada. “His message to me was that we should be doing more together.”
Mr. Boehm said he cautioned Mr. Wang that it will be hard for Canadians to forget Beijing’s jailing of two Canadians – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – in 2018 after Ottawa arrested a Huawei executive on a U.S. extradition request. “I said, ‘Look, in terms of our overall relationship, it’s going to take a long time for us to forget about that. And for us to sort of get back to where we were – if we ever can,’ ” Mr. Boehm said.
The Chinese official expressed concern about efforts in Canada to combat forced labour, the senator said. Canada agreed in NAFTA renegotiations to bar forced-labour imports. The House of Commons in 2021 declared China’s treatment of Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities to amount to genocide. S-211, a Senate bill backed by the Liberal government, would require companies and government bodies to report publicly on forced labour in their supply chains.
Conservative Senator Leo Housakos, a former Senate Speaker, criticized Mr. Boehm for playing host to the private meeting.
“Why is he having a clandestine meeting with a regime that has no respect for human rights and no respect for democracy?” Mr. Housakos said, adding that it would have been “far more appropriate” if that meeting had been held by the foreign-affairs committee in public.
“Senator Boehm knows that there are a lot of questions Canadians have about the disturbing evidence that Beijing infringed on our democratic process. The Senate foreign affairs committee missed an opportunity for us to put those questions to a senior member of the Beijing regime,” Mr. Housakos said.
Mr. Boehm defended the private get-together, saying he took it because he is chair of the Senate foreign-affairs committee. “That doesn’t mean we can’t have a frank exchange on the things where we differ. I think that’s generally how international affairs work.”
Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said Mr. Wang appears to be the No. 2-ranked Communist Party official in China’s Ministry of Commerce. He said Chinese officials have only recently started putting their party affiliation on their business cards – something he never saw during his posting in China.
He said he hopes the Department of Global Affairs rejects China’s request for support in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“When you use coercive actions repeatedly as they have done to us and the Australians, you don’t deserve to be part of the group,” Mr. Saint-Jacques said. “Add to this the fact that their market is still very protectionist and they don’t always abide by international rules. On the other hand, Taiwan is almost ready to join and we should support its candidacy.”
In the House of Commons Wednesday, the Prime Minister continued to reject calls for a public inquiry into China’s interference in the past two elections. He once again denied he was ever told that China’s Toronto consulate allegedly transferred funds to candidates in the 2019 election.
“We have no information of federal candidates receiving money from China,” Mr. Trudeau said in response to questions in the House from Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre about a Global News report.