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Why Canada and China are locked in a new diplomatic conflict

By Alex Wilson and Stephen Wicary

The latest diplomatic row between China and Canada began after a newspaper report revealed that Beijing had targeted a Canadian lawmaker for his critical views on China.

This further escalated tensions between the two countries, already frosty since 2018, when Canada detained Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou as part of a US-led extradition effort.

China detained two Canadians on suspicion of espionage.

China and Canada, Why Canada and China are locked in a new diplomatic conflict
Michael Chong (Photo internet reproduction)

Although Meng and the Canadians have since been released, relations between the two countries remain frosty.

At the Group of 20 summit in Bali in November, Chinese President Xi Jinping accused Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of leaking details of a private meeting, further straining relations between the two countries.

As a result of the latest dispute, both sides expelled diplomats from their countries.

Here are the keys to understanding this new dispute:

1. How did the latest dispute between Canada and China start?

The dispute began on May 1 when the Toronto-based Globe and Mail newspaper reported that the country’s intelligence services had discovered threats against lawmaker Michael Chong and his Hong Kong-based family in retaliation for a motion passed in the Canadian Parliament in 2021 that branded China’s treatment of its ethnic Uighur minority as “genocide.”

The report, citing a top-secret intelligence assessment and an unnamed national security source, said diplomat Zhao Wei had gathered information about Chong, representing a district west of Toronto.

2. What threats were made?

The newspaper said that Beijing intended to penalize Chong for his position on China – he had sponsored the parliamentary motion – and this could include sanctioning family members in Hong Kong.

The report quoted the spy agency document as saying that Beijing “almost certainly intended to teach this MP a lesson and deter others from taking anti-PRC positions.”

3. What was the effect of the revelations?

The report set off a firestorm in Canada, and Chong was furious that the intelligence agency had not notified him earlier.

Trudeau told reporters that he had not been informed of the matter.

It later emerged that at least one of Trudeau’s security advisors had been briefed, although the prime minister himself had not.

China and Canada, Why Canada and China are locked in a new diplomatic conflict
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo internet reproduction)

4. What did Canada do next?

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly declared that Zhao, an official at the Chinese consulate in Toronto, would be declared persona non grata and expelled.

“We will not tolerate any foreign interference in our internal affairs,” Joly said on May 8.

5. How did China respond?

In response, China gave Canadian diplomat Jennifer Lalonde three days to leave the country’s consulate in Shanghai, calling the move a “reciprocal countermeasure” to Canada’s “unreasonable behavior.”

6. What happens next?

Trudeau will continue to face political pressure over his handling of the matter and why he did not act faster.

Later this month, he will receive a recommendation from a special rapporteur on whether allegations of Chinese interference in the Canadian election warrant a public inquiry.

China’s next move is unclear, but Canadian industry groups are bracing for possible economic retaliation.

“Whatever their next decisions, we will not be intimidated,” Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa on May 9.

With information from Bloomberg

News China, English news China, Chinese and Canadian diplomacy

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