Hours after Canada expelled Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei for interfering in this country’s politics, Beijing responded in kind, while also threatening potential further retaliation in a dispute that has plunged relations to a new low.
The move won’t sway Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Parliament Hill Tuesday. “We understand there is retaliation, but we will not be intimidated,” he said.
China’s foreign ministry said Jennifer Lynn Lalonde, a Shanghai-based diplomat, had been declared “persona non grata” and told to leave the country by May 13. It described the move as a “reciprocal countermeasure” to Canada’s own “unscrupulous” expulsion of Mr. Zhao, who CSIS said was involved in targeting Conservative MP Michael Chong and his family after the lawmaker’s work spearheading a parliamentary motion that declared Beijing’s treatment of Uyghurs a genocide.
China had earlier warned Canada against expelling Mr. Zhao, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters Tuesday, but Ottawa proceeded nevertheless, “based on the false accusation of Chinese interference in Canada’s internal affairs.” He said the expulsion of Ms. Lalonde was “fully justified and necessary.”
“We urge Canada to stop its provocations at once,” Mr. Wang said. “If Canada decides to continue its wanton acts, China will react firmly and all consequences must be borne by Canada.”
Mr. Trudeau told reporters outside a federal cabinet meeting that his government chose to expel Mr. Zhao after careful consideration. “We will take whatever action is necessary to continue to protect our democracy and show that we’re standing up for our values and our principles,” he said.
The government considered the possibility of further retaliation from China, he said, but ultimately chose to act to “send a very clear message that we will not accept foreign interference.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said the government made the decision to expel Mr. Zhao on a matter of principle, after CSIS Director David Vigneault confirmed The Globe and Mail’s reporting last week that Mr. Chong was a target of Chinese interference efforts and Mr. Zhao was involved.
Ms. Joly did not explain why the government did nothing when it was first made aware that China was targeting MPs two years ago.
“You heard the Prime Minister: There is an investigation that is happening,” Ms. Joly said, referencing the review Mr. Trudeau announced last week.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino declined to say whether the internal review of what went wrong will be made public. He suggested the review could be protected by national-security laws, despite the government having declassified other information related to the targeting of Mr. Chong.
Speaking to reporters following a House of Commons foreign affairs committee appearance, he also wouldn’t say when the review will be completed.
The federal government’s travel advisory for China already warns Canadians to exercise a “high degree of caution” when travelling there because of the risk that Beijing arbitrarily enforces its laws. Ms. Joly said Tuesday the government will “adapt” the advisory as needed, when asked whether the government will further update the advisory given the risk of more retaliation from China.
The Foreign Affairs Minister also defended Ms. Lalonde, calling her a “great career diplomat.”
Just how Ms. Lalonde – a veteran foreign affairs officer who previously served in Sri Lanka – was chosen for expulsion is unclear, but such a response was widely expected and follows similar tit-for-tat actions Beijing has taken in disputes with other countries. Ottawa will now be waiting to see if this is the extent of the retaliation, with the Chinese foreign ministry warning it reserves the right “to further react.”
That could include restrictions on Canadian exports to China. After Australia infuriated Beijing by calling for an independent investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, its wine, coal and other products were hit with sanctions, decimating trade between the two countries.
Willy Lam, a China expert at the Jamestown Foundation, said Canada may see a similar “significant worsening of economic relations.”
China only last year lifted a ban on imports of canola, Canada’s largest crop, which was instituted following the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver. Ms. Meng was released in September, 2021, after which Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who had been detained by Beijing in retaliation, were also able to fly home.
“It could be very bad news for us if China decides to target us again,” said Roger Chevraux, chair of the Canadian Canola Growers Association, who operates a farm near Killam, Alta. “We just got over the last ban.”
At the nadir of relations with Canberra, Beijing released a list of 14 “grievances,” including Australia’s banning of Huawei from its 5G networks and the introduction of foreign-interference legislation seen as targeting China – similar to that now being considered in Ottawa. One of the country’s diplomats told Australian media “if you make China the enemy, China will be the enemy.”
This chill lasted for more than two years until a change in government created an opportunity for a thaw under new Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. Bilateral relations have gradually resumed since last year, and trade between the two nations last week reached a record high.
Such a shift may be more difficult in Canada, with the opposition Conservatives seen as tougher on China than the Liberals. The Globe previously reported that Chinese moves to interfere in Canadian politics were aimed at keeping the Conservatives from power for this very reason, though an independent inquiry found such activities did not change the overall election result.
Lu Xu, author of the Middle Powers newsletter, which focuses on Chinese foreign policy, said while Canada is not as economically dependent on China as Australia, with Beijing a distant second to the United States in terms of trade, relations are entering a “new era.”
“The golden age started under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau is over and the two countries are going to have to find a new way to re-engage,” she said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is standing firm on his Liberal government’s decision to expel a Chinese diplomat over allegations of meddling in Canadian affairs, after China retaliated by declaring a Canadian diplomat in Shanghai a 'persona non grata.’ Trudeau says his government will do what is needed to protect Canadians from foreign interference.
The Canadian Press
The decision to expel Ms. Lalonde was a top trending topic on Chinese social media Tuesday, with many calling on Beijing to go further and expel more diplomats or shut down consulates. Writing on Weibo, a Twitter-like service, influential commentator Hu Xijin said Canada “must bear the price for provoking China.”
Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, was skeptical whether Beijing would go beyond a tit-for-tat expulsion, however. He said economic sanctions “would send the wrong message” at a time when China is trying to convince foreign companies to reinvest in the country.
And though it has infuriated Beijing, Mr. Saint-Jacques said Canada’s move to expel Mr. Zhao could “reassure our allies that we can push back on China’s interference.”
On Parliament Hill Tuesday, opposition parties criticized the government for only acting once China’s targeting of an MP became public, rather than two years ago when it was first alerted to the issue.
“This is problematic,” Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said.
With its delayed reaction, Mr. Blanchet said the government has failed the test that it won’t be intimidated. He said the Prime Minister should apologize to the House of Commons for his government’s failure to protect the security of members of Parliament.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the government should also disclose which other MPs were targeted by China.
Conservative MP Garnett Genuis said the government needs to clarify what senior officials in government knew about the targeting, when they first became aware of it and why it wasn’t acted on two years ago. Ultimately, though, he said ministerial responsibility should prevail.
“Liberal ministers need to explain why they have built a system where threats like this are able to persist without action or response,” Mr. Genuis said. “Either the government is not being honest or the government is not competent.”
With reports from Bill Curry, Jason Kirby and Alexandra Li