Canada and China are once again in a diplomatic battle over a range of issues — this time with Beijing threatening retaliation over Canada's acceptance of activists from Hong Kong who are seeking political asylum.
China’s ambassador to Canada Cong Peiwu issued a somewhat unprecedented threat to Ottawa late this week, saying that accepting anti-China activists could jeopardize the “health and safety” of 300,000 Canadians who live in Hong Kong.
“We strongly urge the Canadian side not to grant so-called political asylum to those violent criminals in Hong Kong, because it is interference in China’s domestic affairs, and certainly it will embolden those violent criminals,” Cong said.
“If the Canadian side really cares about the stability and prosperity in Hong Kong, and really cares about the good health and safety of those 300,000 Canadian passport holders in Hong Kong, and a large number of Canadian companies operating in Hong Kong, you should support those efforts to fight violent crimes.” This was widely taken as an ominous threat of retaliatory action against Canadian citizens and companies in the region.
Ironically the ultra-provocative remarks came during an event marking the 50th anniversary of Canadian and Chinese diplomatic relations. When pressed over whether the statements were a threat, the ambassador left if open, replying: “That is your interpretation.”
Cong was also responding to the move among dozens of Canadian MPs and senators recently calling for their country to accept more Hong Kong activists in the wake of the over 3-month old Chinese national security law. A number of prominent pro-independence activists fled in the wake of the harsh law, given it's rumored to apply retroactively, and can carry stiff jail sentences for mere political speech, should that speech be dubbed by authorities incitement or "terroristic".
According to Canadian national media reports:
"Canada has accepted at least two Hong Kong activists as refugees, granting them protection in early September. More than 45 other dissidents are awaiting approval for asylum, sources have told The Globe."
Cong had defended the national security law as ensuring "stability" after months of protests, riots, and clashes with police which turned violent and often led to massive destruction of property and temporary shutdowns to things like public transit.
A threat to Canadians anywhere, is a threat to Canadians everywhere.— Erin O'Toole (@erinotoole) October 16, 2020
My statement on the Chinese Ambassador’s remarks about those fleeing Hong Kong to seek asylum in Canada: pic.twitter.com/BqEMbBDmgl
“I want to make clear that a stable and prosperous Hong Kong … is not only in the interest of the vast majority of Hong Kong residents, but it is also conducive to the majority of those … law-abiding foreigners and enterprises in Hong Kong,” Cong emphasized.
Canada's Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne immediately protested the deeply "inappropriate" comments. “The reported comments by the Chinese ambassador are totally unacceptable and disturbing,” he said in a statement. “I have instructed Global Affairs to call the Ambassador in to make clear in no uncertain terms that Canada will always stand up for human rights and the rights of Canadians around the world.”
Cong had also taken Trudeau's prior statements to task alleging the mainland's “coercive diplomacy” in its crackdown in Hong Kong. Trudeau had also mentioned arbitrary detention of Uyghurs in government-run camps.
“There is no coercive diplomacy on the Chinese side,” Cong responded Thursday. “The Hong Kong issue and the Xinjiang-related issue are not about the issue of human rights. They are purely about internal affairs of China, which brooks no interference from the outside.”
Amid ongoing political turmoil in Hong Kong, dozens of pro-democracy activists have made asylum claims in Canada. Our @jonvhernandez spoke with one Vancouver-based man who’s eagerly awaiting approval from Ottawa.https://t.co/ROuZBwxBPu pic.twitter.com/21ay0EPibz— CBC British Columbia (@cbcnewsbc) October 10, 2020
He also hit Ottawa over the still contested Huawei affair, charging that Canada is ultimately an “accomplice” to Washington in detaining Huawei executive, Meng Wanzhou.
There's been a rapidly downward spiral in diplomatic relations between China and Canada springing from the Huawei controversy, but especially following the mainland's crackdown on protests in Hong Kong. Last month China walked away from free trade talks with China, which had been in process for a year.