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Canadian foreign minister says Zhao Wei declared ‘persona non grata’ after alleged intimidation of opposition lawmaker.
Canada is expelling a Chinese diplomat after Zhao Wei was accused of being involved in a campaign to intimidate a Canadian opposition legislator critical of Beijing.
In a statement on Monday, Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said the Canadian government has designated Zhao, a diplomat based in Toronto, “persona non grata”.
“I have been clear: we will not tolerate any form of foreign interference in our internal affairs. Diplomats in Canada have been warned that if they engage in this type of behaviour, they will be sent home,” Joly said.
The Chinese government has rejected the allegations that it interfered in Canada’s internal affairs, saying last week that it has “no interest whatsoever in doing so”.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has been under pressure to take action after the Globe and Mail newspaper reported earlier this month that China had sought information about any relatives of a Canadian legislator “who may be located” within its borders.
The move was likely part of an effort to “make an example of this MP and deter others” from taking anti-China positions, the newspaper said, citing Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).
While the CSIS report did not name the lawmaker, the Globe said a national security source identified the targeted politician as Michael Chong, a member of the opposition Conservative Party of Canada.
China sanctioned Chong in 2021 after he spearheaded a Canadian parliamentary motion condemning Beijing’s treatment of its Uighur Muslim minority as a “genocide” – a charge rejected by the Chinese government for years.
The accusations this month have led to renewed tensions between Ottawa and Beijing. The two countries have had frosty relations for several years over a range of issues, including human rights, trade, and the arrests of Canadian and Chinese citizens.
Canada summoned the Chinese ambassador to the country on Friday over the most recent allegations of intimidation against Chong, stressing that it was mulling all necessary measures to defend its sovereignty.
Mao Ning, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, hit back by accusing the Canadian government of advancing a “groundless smear” against China’s diplomatic and consular mission in Canada.
“A handful of Canadian politicians and media have hyped up a fabricated story of ‘China targeting a Canadian lawmaker’, which is nothing but a political stunt that grew out of ideological bias,” Mao said during a news conference last week.
“I want to stress that the Chinese diplomatic and consular personnel in Canada always abide by relevant international conventions and perform their duties in accordance with the law. The Chinese side will take necessary measures to firmly safeguard its own interests.”
Joly, Canada’s foreign minister, said on Monday that decision to blacklist Zhao came “after careful consideration of all factors at play”. “We remain firm in our resolve that defending our democracy is one of the utmost importance,” she said.
Heather McPherson, a member of the left-wing New Democratic Party, said it was “appalling” and “unacceptable” that it took the Canadian government two weeks after the Globe and Mail report to declare Zhao “persona non grata”.
“We don’t know if there are other examples,” McPherson told reporters on Monday afternoon. “There are members of the Chinese-Canadian community who have been warning about interference, [who] have been warning about intimidation, for decades.”
This is a developing story. More updates to follow.