Canada’s Foreign Minister Melanie Joly has announced her country summoned Chinese ambassador Cong Peiwu following allegations that Beijing threatened an opposition party legislator and his family.
Facing pressure to address allegations of Chinese interference in Canadian politics, Joly said she instructed her deputy to summon Cong to “convey to him directly that we will not tolerate any form of foreign interference”.
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She also explained “all options, including expulsion of diplomats, remain on the table as we consider the consequences for this behaviour”.
“What has happened is completely unacceptable. I cannot imagine the shock and concern of learning that your loved ones have been targeted in this way,” Joly said during a parliamentary committee hearing.
Beijing denounced the accusations on Friday.
“China is strongly dissatisfied with Canada’s groundless slander and defamation of the normal performance of duties by the Chinese embassy and consulates in Canada and firmly opposes it,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said. Beijing had “lodged a strong protest” against the move, she said.
The Globe and Mail newspaper, citing a classified report from Canada’s spy agency, reported on Monday that China had sought information about any relatives of a Canadian legislator “who may be located” within its borders, in a likely effort to “make an example of this MP and deter others” from taking anti-China positions.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) report did not name the lawmaker, but the Globe said a national security source identified the politician as Michael Chong, a member of the opposition Conservative Party of Canada.
We who live freely in democracies under the rule of law must speak for the voiceless.
If that means China sanctions me, I’ll wear it as a badge of honour. pic.twitter.com/tS8MomWnun
— Michael Chong 🇨🇦 (@MichaelChongMP) March 27, 2021
China sanctioned Chong in 2021 after he spearheaded a Canadian parliamentary motion condemning Beijing’s treatment of its Uighur Muslim minority as a “genocide”.
The United Nations and other observers have accused China of committing “crimes against humanity” against the Uighurs in the country’s western province of Xinjiang, an allegation rejected by the Chinese government.
Dismissing the allegations in Canada this week, a spokesperson for China’s consulate-general in Toronto expressed “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition” to the claims and urged the media and politicians to “stop spreading rumours and smearing”.
The spokesperson said Canadian media and politicians were “intentionally damaging the reputation and image” of the consulate and “maliciously interfering with normal communication and cooperation between both parties”.
On Thursday, Mao of the Chinese foreign affairs ministry also said during a news conference that “China is opposed to any interference in a country’s internal affairs”.
“We never interfere in Canada’s internal affairs and have no interest whatsoever in doing so. At the same time, we are resolute in defending our sovereignty, security and development interests and opposing actions that interfere in China’s internal affairs and harm China’s interests,” Mao said.
The China-Canada relationship has been frosty for several years, especially after Canadian authorities detained Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou in 2018 on a US arrest warrant. China then arrested two Canadians on spying charges.
The standoff ended when all three people were released in 2021, but relations have remained sour over several points of contention, including human rights and trade.
Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has faced growing calls in recent months to investigate allegations that the Chinese government has interfered in the country’s elections and is operating covert “police stations” in Canada.
In November, the media outlet Global News reported intelligence officials warned Trudeau that China was “targeting Canada with a vast campaign of foreign interference”, including by meddling in the country’s 2019 elections.
The Globe and Mail also reported “China employed a sophisticated strategy” to disrupt the 2021 elections, “as Chinese diplomats and their proxies backed the re-election of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals … and worked to defeat Conservative politicians considered to be unfriendly to Beijing”.
Beijing has denied all these claims.
Amid the most recent reports of threats against Chong, the Conservative Party has called on Trudeau to expel a Chinese diplomatic official who the Globe and Mail said was involved in the alleged intimidation effort.
“What is at issue is that the government did nothing about a person in Canada that was targeting me and my family, and targeting other [members of parliament],” Chong told reporters on Wednesday.
“And that is an appalling lack of leadership and an appalling breakdown in the responsibility of the Government of Canada. And the fact that this individual continues to remain in Canada is inexplicable,” he said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Trudeau said he only found out about the alleged intimidation of the opposition politician when the media report came out this week.
The prime minister told reporters that he had made it clear to Canada’s spy agency that it needs to better share information with the government about any threats against parliament members or their families.
“When there are concerns that talk specifically about any MP, particularly about their family, those need to be elevated — even if CSIS doesn’t feel that it’s a sufficient level of concern for them to take more direct action. We still need to know about it at the upper government levels,” Trudeau said.