A major diplomatic rift erupted between Canada and China on Tuesday as Beijing expelled a Canadian diplomat in a tit-for-tat move hours after Ottawa said it ordered a Chinese envoy to leaves amid allegations of influence peddling.
On Monday night, Canada said it had declared a Chinese diplomat accused of intimidating and gathering information on a Canadian lawmaker “persona non grata,” and ordered him to leave. Hours later, China said it retaliated by expelling a diplomat from the Canadian consulate in Shanghai.
Reports of a Chinese influence campaign have rocked Canada in recent months. The Globe and Mail newspaper and other prominent Canadian news organizations published a series of articles describing intelligence reports accusing the Chinese government and its Canadian diplomats of attempting to manipulate the last two elections to ensure that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party won.
The goal, according to reports: prevent the victory of the Conservative Party, which the Chinese see as a hard line towards Beijing. The reports started a political firestorm, raising questions about the integrity of Canadian democracy. China denies the claims.
An independent report, made public in March, concluded that while China, Russia and Iran tried to interfere in the 2019 and 2021 elections, they had no effect on the results.
In a statement on Monday, Mélanie Joly, Canada’s foreign minister, said the decision to boot the diplomat, Zhao Wei, was made “after careful consideration of all the factors at play.”
“Canadian diplomats have been warned that if they engage in this type of behavior, they will be sent home,” he added. “We will not tolerate any form of foreign interference.”
The Globe, citing a secret document from 2021, also reported that Mr. Zhao was involved in gathering information about Michael Chong, a Conservative member of Parliament, and his family in China in a possible effort to “create example” of him.
In 2021, Mr. Chong has angered Beijing for sponsoring a motion to declare China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority a genocide. Beijing immediately imposed sanctions against Mr. Chong, barring him from entering the country and banning Chinese citizens from doing business with him.
That year, a report by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service on a possible Chinese influence campaign also included information about possible threats to Mr. Chong.
The Chinese Consulate in Toronto, where Mr. Zhao is based and listed as head of the intergovernmental and media office, said in a statement last week, “The claim has no factual basis and is completely baseless.”
It is unclear whether Mr. Zhao has been given a deadline to leave the country.
Describing Canada’s move as “unscrupulous,” China retaliated by ordering Jennifer Lalonde, a diplomat at the Canadian Consulate in Shanghai, to leave by Saturday. In a statement, China’s foreign ministry also said Beijing “reserves the right to further react.”
Diplomatic expulsions are not uncommon. In 2018, Canada joined Western allies in booting Russian envoys following accusations that Kremlin agents used a nerve agent to poison a former Russian spy, Sergei V. Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, 33.
After the announcement of Ms. Joly, Mr. Chong told reporters, “It should not have taken the government two years to make this decision.” He said he was “very disappointed” to learn about a potential threat to his family from a newspaper, and criticized Mr. Trudeau for inaction. He has repeatedly called for Mr. Zhao’s ouster since the Globe report.
After said Mr. Trudeau said he was unaware of the accusations that Chinese diplomats were targeting Canadian lawmakers, Answered by Mr. Chong on Twitter last week, “This is a complete failure of leadership on the PM’s part.”
Tensions between Ottawa and Beijing have flared before, perhaps most notably in December 2018, when Canada arrested a top executive of the telecommunications company Huawei at the request of the United States. China retaliated by detaining two Canadian citizens, who were released after the Huawei executive, Meng Wanzhou, reached a deal to return to China.
John Liu contributed to the report.