China’s outspoken ambassador to Ottawa is leaving in the midst of the worst diplomatic crisis between the two countries in decades.
Lu Shaye, 54, will leave Ottawa later this month, four people with knowledge of his departure confirmed to The Globe and Mail. China’s Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment.
A fluent French speaker whose rhetoric has been called “strikingly undiplomatic,” Mr. Lu has been nominated as China’s ambassador to Paris, according to multiple diplomatic sources in Beijing, who were granted anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Canada, meanwhile, does not have a permanent ambassador to Beijing, following the firing of John McCallum in January. Relations between Canada and China have grown strained following the December arrest in Vancouver of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou and China’s subsequent arrest of two Canadians. Chinese authorities have also blocked imports of a series of Canadian agricultural products – including canola and pork – and stonewalled requests for high-level communications with the Canadian government.
As China’s chief representative in Canada, Mr. Lu raised eyebrows – and, occasionally, anger – for his plainspoken speech, a departure from the cautious public comments made by many of his predecessors. He once lashed out at “white supremacy” in Canada.
“Ambassador Lu has been a very undiplomatic diplomat,” said Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a senior fellow with the China Institute at the University of Alberta. “Instead of trying to work with Canada to understand our position, he has bullied us and given us ultimatums. Of course none of that has worked.”
In Canada’s China-watching community, Mr. Lu’s posture received widespread condemnation. On the Internet, some used a play on Chinese characters based on the sound of his name to call him “Behaves Wildly Lu.” (Mr. McCallum came in for similar wordplay, receiving the moniker “Sells Out Canada.”)
But his posting to France suggests his work has been favourably received in Beijing, which is rewarding him with a promotion to a major European power.
“His hard line tone surely pleased people in the Chinese Communist Party, but it did not work well for him here,” said Guy Saint-Jacques, Canada’s former ambassador to China.
Mr. Lu delivered high-profile speeches and sat down for numerous media interviews in which he criticized “unjust and unfair” Canadian media coverage of China – including by The Globe – and delivered Beijing’s rebuttal to foreign commentary, often in direct terms.
“The reason why some people are used to arrogantly adopting double standards is due to Western egotism and white supremacy,” he wrote in an opinion piece for The Hill Times in January. “What they have been doing is not showing respect for the rule of law, but mocking and trampling the rule of law.”
In a speech at an event sponsored by BMO Financial Group and The Globe in late May, he lashed out at allegations that China is “an ’autocracy’ with ’no freedom’ and ’violating human rights.’”
Instead, he argued, “China has realized its modernization and become the second largest economy in the world in only a few decades while it took its Western counterparts several hundred years to achieve the same.”
In defending Huawei, he has also spoken out against what he called “a stale cold-war mentality” among those who believe “that China – a socialist country led by the Communist Party of China – is an abnormal country. They are worried that China is catching up to Western countries too quickly, and that it will surpass them in terms of the economy as well as science and technology.”
In his willingness to attack critics, Mr. Lu adopted language that has been used by a growing number of Chinese diplomats – including, most prominently, Wang Yi, China’s state councillor and Minister of Foreign Affairs. Mr. Wang, in 2016, berated a Canadian journalist for a question he called “full of prejudice against China and arrogance.”
Chinese ambassadors in Sweden, South Africa and Britain have been similarly outspoken.
“The strikingly undiplomatic Lu Shaye was indeed not an aberration, but is rather a symptom of a Chinese Communist Party that, confident in its status as a major international player, has been in lecturing mode in recent years,” said J. Michael Cole, a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.
“We are increasingly being lectured to by Chinese representatives who will no longer countenance the view that our system – liberal democracy, with rule of law and transparency – is superior to theirs.”
Indeed, the rhetoric from China’s diplomatic corps has only served to highlight what Hervé Lemahieu, director of the Asian Power and Diplomacy Program at Australia’s Lowy Institute, calls “the end of the age of tolerance,” between China and the West, and in particular the U.S.
”It could be that they’re trying to intimidate Canada into submission,” he said. “But it’s more likely they’re trying to make an example of Canada to third countries and say, ’this is what happens when you decide to mess with us. And there are consequences to taking the U.S. side on issues.’”
It’s not clear who will replace Mr. Lu, or even whether he will be immediately replaced. Canada has yet to select someone to replace Mr. McCallum, and it would make sense for China to “have the same protocol” in Canada, said Cheng Li, director of research and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Still, he warned that it’s not clear any successor to Mr. Lu would adopt a warmer tone.
In Mr. Li’s conversations with Chinese diplomats, many are “even more angry” in private than they are in public. There is a widespread sense that foreign criticism of China “is very unfair,” he said.