China’s ambassador to Canada Cong Peiwu warned Ottawa not to grant asylum to those fleeing Hong Kong after a sweeping national security law was imposed on the territory.
Doing so would amount to “interference in China’s domestic affairs,” said Mr Cong, who denounced Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters as “violent criminals.”
He even issued what sounded like a threat, saying if Canada cared about the “good health and safety of those 300,000 Canadian passport-holders in Hong Kong, and the large number of Canadian companies operating in Hong Kong SAR” that Ottawa should support China’s efforts to fight violent crimes.”
He also denied that two Canadians detained in China since late 2018, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, were being held for political reasons.
“There’s no coercive diplomacy on the Chinese side,” said Mr Cong. “Those two Canadians have been prosecuted because they were suspected of engaging in activities which endanger our national security.”
Canadian foreign minister Francois-Philippe Champagne described the ambassador’s comments as “totally unacceptable and disturbing.”
These two hot button issues have exacerbated a diplomatic spat between Beijing and Ottawa that has, for years, shown no signs of abating.
In 2018, Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, an executive at Chinese telecoms firm Huawei, on a US extradition request over alleged skirting of sanctions against Iran.
Shortly after, Chinese authorities detained Mr Spavor and Mr Kovrig, who have since been accused of espionage – charges their friends and family deny and many experts say is politically motivated hostage diplomacy.
The pair continue to be held and were only recently granted their first consular access with the Canadian embassy this year via video link, through which they finally learned of the coronavirus pandemic.
This summer, Canada also suspended its extradition agreement with Hong Kong over concerns of unfair trial and treatment after the Chinese government put in place a new national security law.
Concerns are rising in Canada against undue Chinese influence and interference. A new campaign in the province of British Columbia is trying to put the issue of China on the local election agenda.
The campaign, dubbed “No BC for Xi,” referring to Xi Jinping, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), has published an open spreadsheet labelling local candidates as either “CCP leaning” or “against CCP interference.”
The campaign also pushes candidates to pledge that they will refuse gifts or donations from the Chinese Communist Party and its affiliates, and reject infrastructure investment projects via China’s “Belt and Road” initiative in the province over national security concerns.