(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is assessing the consequences of potentially expelling a Chinese diplomat accused in media reports of targeting a Canadian lawmaker’s family for sanctions for political reasons.
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Foreign Minister Melanie Joly summoned China’s ambassador to Canada to discuss the matter Thursday morning. “We’re assessing the consequences that we’ll be facing in case of diplomatic expulsion, because there will be consequences,” Joly told a parliamentary committee afterward.
The blowback could take the form of punishing the northern nation economically or diplomatically, she said. Joly mentioned the “Two Michaels” crisis, when China detained two Canadians for nearly three years after Canada arrested a Huawei Technologies Co. executive on a US extradition order.
China’s embassy in Canada sternly warned that any diplomatic moves by Joly would be matched in lockstep by Beijing.
“China strongly urges the Canadian side to immediately stop this self-directed political farce, not go further down the wrong and dangerous path,” a spokesperson for Ambassador Cong Peiwu, said in statement posted to the embassy’s website Thursday evening. “Should the Canadian side continue to make provocations, China will play along every step of the way until the very end.”
A Chinese diplomat based in Toronto was looking into relatives of Conservative lawmaker Michael Chong, who live in China, for possible sanctions by China, the Globe and Mail reported this week, citing a leaked Canadian intelligence document from July 2021. The newspaper identified the Chinese diplomat as Zhao Wei.
Chong has taken a strong line against China’s government, including sponsoring a motion in parliament declaring that Beijing’s treatment of the Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities amounts to genocide.
Trudeau told reporters this week he was never briefed on the matter, as the country’s intelligence agency determined it wasn’t serious enough to require notifying him. Following the Globe report, the prime minister arranged a meeting for Canadian intelligence officials to brief Chong.
At Thursday’s committee meeting, Chong questioned Joly over why the government hasn’t acted more forcefully.
“You have given accreditation to a diplomat here who is using his diplomatic immunity to target not just me and my family, but other members of parliament,” Chong said. “So why do you, minister, continue to allow this diplomat to be accredited in this country, on Canadian soil?”
Joly answered that the government is “assessing different options, including the expulsion of diplomats.”
In a Chinese-language statement, the Chinese embassy in Ottawa expressed “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition” to the claims it targeted Chong’s family, saying the reports were false and hyped up by some Canadian politicians and media.
“China has never interfered in Canada’s internal affairs, nor does it have any interest in doing so, let alone threatening Canadian MPs,” according to the unsigned statement. It added that sanctions it had applied directly to Chong in 2021 were “entirely self-inflicted.”
Earlier this year, a series of reports alleged Trudeau received intelligence briefings on Chinese attempts to meddle in Canada’s 2019 and 2021 elections, which his Liberal Party won. Trudeau has resisted calls for a public inquiry into the matter, but has instead appointed a “special rapporteur” to examine the evidence and decide if an inquiry is warranted.
--With assistance from Jacob Gu.
(Updates with Chinese ambassador’s statement in 4th paragraph. An earlier version corrected the spelling of Uyghurs.)
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