China and Canada Expel Each Other’s Diplomats over Interference Claims

Fred Dufour/Pool via REUTERS
Picture of Canadian and Chinese flags at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse on December 5, 2017, in Beijing.

TORONTO – Beijing on Tuesday ordered a Canadian diplomat to leave China, in a swift retaliatory move after Ottawa expelled a Chinese diplomat who allegedly had targeted a Canadian lawmaker.

The moves threaten to further inflame ties between Ottawa and Beijing, which were locked in a diplomatic dispute for three years over the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

Mélanie Joly, Canada’s foreign minister, on Monday said she was expelling Zhao Wei, a Chinese diplomat based in Toronto.

Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail reported last week that the diplomat was involved in a campaign to punish Michael Chong, a Conservative lawmaker, and his family in Hong Kong because of his support for a parliamentary motion that called China’s treatment of its Uyghur minority a “genocide.”

“I have been clear: We will not tolerate any form of foreign interference in our internal affairs,” Joly said in a statement announcing the Canadian government’s decision.

China’s foreign ministry responded with a formal diplomatic protest and asked Jennifer Lynn Lalonde, a diplomat at the Canadian consulate in Shanghai, to leave the country before May 13.

“China strongly condemns and firmly opposes” Canada’s move and reserves the right to take further action, it said in a statement.

China did not give a reason for its choice of Lalonde.

Lalonde has in recent months played a prominent role in Canada’s public diplomacy in Shanghai, attending a literary event on Canadian writer Alice Munro, visiting a rural education nonprofit and speaking at an international women’s film festival screening, according to reports in Chinese media.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had faced calls to expel Zhao.

The Globe and Mail reported that a 2021 document from Canada’s spy agency said an officer with the Chinese Ministry of State Security had sought information on a Canadian lawmaker’s relatives “who may be located in the [People’s Republic of China], for further potential sanctions.”

The top-secret report said the aim of the effort was “almost certainly . . . to make an example of this MP and deter others from taking anti-PRC positions.”

An unnamed national security source told the newspaper Chong was the lawmaker and Zhao was the Chinese officer involved in the effort.

Chong on Monday said that it shouldn’t have taken so long for the government to boot Zhao.

“We have known for years that the PRC is using its accredited diplomats here in Canada to target Canadians and their families,” he told reporters in Ottawa, adding, “This should have happened years ago.”

Trudeau has maintained that he learned of the effort to intimidate Chong from the Globe and Mail story. He said last week that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) hadn’t shared the report outside of the agency because it wasn’t a “significant enough concern.”

Chong told Parliament that he was advised by Trudeau’s national security and intelligence adviser that CSIS had shared the report with her predecessor and “relevant departments,” but not with the prime minister.

Trudeau said he would compel the spy agency to share such information with him in the future.

“Moving forward, any threat – whether it’s serious or credible or not – to a member of Parliament, or their family, particularly from foreign sources, needs to be elevated to higher levels that it was,” he told reporters last week.

Details of the alleged threats against Chong and his relatives follow recent stories in local media about apparent efforts by China to interfere in Canadian affairs, including the 2021 federal election.

The reports, citing leaked intelligence documents, allege that China wanted to ensure that Trudeau’s Liberals were reelected with a minority government – an outcome that analysts have said would be difficult to orchestrate.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is investigating the source of the leaks.

Canadian intelligence agencies have long said China is one of many countries seeking to interfere in Canadian elections. A panel of civil servants reported this year that there was no evidence that the results of the past two federal elections were affected by foreign interference.

Trudeau, who came to power pledging closer ties with China, has been under pressure to take a more aggressive stance against Beijing. He has tasked a “special rapporteur” with advising him later this month whether a public inquiry into the alleged Chinese interference is necessary.

Ties between Canada and China plunged into a deep freeze in 2018 after China detained two Canadians – former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor – in apparent retaliation for Canada’s detention of Meng, the Huawei executive who was wanted in the United States on fraud charges.

Meng returned to China in 2021 after she reached a deal with U.S. prosecutors. She was under house arrest in one of her two mansions in Vancouver. Hours later, the “two Michaels,” as they were known in Canada, were on their way home, too.

Kovrig and Spavor had been held in separate Chinese prisons on vague charges of espionage and stealing state secrets, allegations for which China never provided evidence. They were tried in secret trials and permitted only a handful of calls with their families during their years-long detentions.