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The flag of the People's Republic of China files at the Embassy of China in Ottawa, on Nov. 22, 2019.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

China’s embassy in Ottawa is defending instances where Chinese officials tried to dissuade Canadian MPs from meeting with Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders and with the Dalai Lama, saying it considers such contact to be interference in its internal affairs.

As The Globe and Mail reported, Canadian MPs on the House of Commons foreign-affairs committee were told during a fact-finding visit to Hong Kong in late 2017 that Chinese authorities did not want them meeting with leading figures from the pro-democracy movement in the former British colony.

And in early 2019, according to Linda Duncan, who was an NDP MP for Edmonton-Strathcona at the time, her office was contacted by the Chinese embassy in Canada advising her not to proceed with plans to meet with the Dalai Lama. The spiritual leader of the Tibetan people has lived in exile since fleeing his homeland in 1959 during an uprising against China’s rule.

Members of Parliament bridled at the attempted interference. Ms. Duncan said Tuesday that “it was completely inappropriate and none of their bloody business.”

The Chinese embassy in Ottawa, however, now says it believes that contact with the the Dalai Lama, who lives in India, constitutes an intrusion in China’s affairs. The same goes for communicating with Hong Kong pro-democracy figures, it said.

“The Dalai Lama is a political exile who has long engaged in anti-China separatist activities. China firmly opposes foreign official’s contact with the Dalai Lama in any form," the embassy said in an e-mailed response to questions.

The Chinese embassy said it believes it’s wrong for members of Parliament to speak to such people.

“Hong Kong affairs are China’s internal affairs, and no foreign country has the right to interfere. If someone insists on interfering in affairs concerning China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, isn’t this interference in China’s internal affairs?” the embassy said.

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis was one of the MPs on the foreign-affairs committee that visited Hong Kong in late 2017 when the local Canadian consulate passed on a message from Chinese authorities: They did not want the MPs meeting with leading pro-democracy figures such as Joshua Wong or Anson Chan.

At the time, Hong Kong was not yet under the influence of a national-security law recently imposed by Beijing. And the Western-style freedoms left over from its British colonial past were supposed to be intact, including freedom of association, freedom of speech and of expression.

Mr. Genuis said he remains surprised at how upset the Chinese government is by the mere act of MPs meeting with Hong Kong democracy proponents or the Dalai Lama. “It’s an indication of how insecure [they are] about these matters,” he said Tuesday.

Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a senior fellow with the China Institute at the University of Alberta, said China has exerted quiet pressure for years on foreign politicians “but now they are becoming more forthright and open – with sharp elbows.” She added: “I think it’s bizarre that a nation like China would tremble at the thought of an MP meeting with someone from Hong Kong or Tibet to have informal talks.”

Recent hearings by the special House of Commons committee on Canada-China relations have shone a spotlight on efforts by Beijing to shape public opinion in Canada.

As Amnesty International and Canadian rights groups said in a report released in May, Chinese government officials and supporters of the Communist Party of China are increasingly resorting to “threats, bullying and harassment” to intimidate and silence activists in Canada. The activists include those raising concerns about democracy and civil rights in Hong Kong and Beijing’s mistreatment of Uyghurs, Tibetans and Falun Gong practitioners.

Ms. Duncan, who did not seek re-election in the 2019 federal election, travelled to northern India in March, 2019, as the guest of the Central Tibetan Administration, also known as the Tibetan government in exile. China took control of Tibet in 1950. Last year was the 60th anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.

While she was in transit to India, her Ottawa office was contacted by the Chinese embassy. “They suggested I should not be going to meet with the Dalai Lama,” she said Tuesday.

Ms. Duncan called the Chinese embassy’s defence of its conduct laughable. “How dare they tell an elected official whom I can or cannot meet with? We weren’t even in China.”

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