China’s ambassador warns Canadians to get ready for retaliation

Alex Boutilier

7 July 2020

China’s ambassador to Canada said Canadians should prepare for retaliation after Ottawa protested the Asian nation’s security crackdown in Hong Kong.

In an exclusive interview with the Star, Ambassador Cong Peiwu accused the Liberal government of “interfering in China’s internal affairs” by suspending the Canada-Hong Kong extradition treaty and stopping military and “dual-use” exports to the city.

Cong was reiterating and reinforcing the official line from Beijing. On Monday, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry condemned the Canadian response, “reserved the right to further react,” and warned Canada would “bear the consequences.”

“I’d like to suggest you just wait and see,” Cong said when asked what specific “consequences” Beijing was contemplating.

“As I have told you, we are resolute in safeguarding our national security and sovereignty. We will not just sit idly by.”

It was another in a growing list of warnings and retaliatory actions made against Canada by the Chinese government, which is facing international condemnation for a draconian new national security law imposed on Hong Kong. The new law, which came into effect last week, gives Beijing more power to silence political dissent, as well as limit the activities of non-governmental organizations, media and foreign governments in Hong Kong.

The Canadian government condemned the crackdown, and on Friday announced it was suspending its extradition agreement with Hong Kong, as well as military or “dual use” exports — such as equipment used by police to quell pro-democracy demonstrations in the city.

Canada’s foreign affairs minister, François-Philippe Champagne, has accused the Chinese government of “coercive diplomacy” and “arbitrary detention” — a reference to Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, two Canadians who have languished in Chinese detention for more than 570 days and are now facing espionage charges. In a move widely seen as retaliation, they were detained by Chinese authorities just days after Canadian police arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in December 2018.

But Beijing’s aggressive diplomatic posture is yielding diminishing returns, according to Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a University of Ottawa professor and former civil servant who worked on Canada-China relations.

McCuaig-Johnston said China has taken a similar approach with Canada’s allies — including the U.K., U.S., France, Germany, and others — trying to mute criticism on everything from human rights to Huawei to Hong Kong.

“I think they are overplaying their hand,” McCuaig-Johnston said in an interview.

“Western countries are not amused by these kinds of threats. That’s why some of the threats are very specific, like threats to Germany’s auto industry if they don’t (allow) Huawei (into 5G networks), threats to stop work on building nuclear reactors and high-speed rail systems in the U.K.”

“For countries like Canada, there are quite a few ways they can hurt us — through their companies, by kidnapping our citizens … but I think Canada and other countries are working more closely together to collaborate on common approaches,” McCuaig-Johnston said.

Champagne told the Star in an interview Friday that Ottawa is working on a new “framework” for Canada-China relations based on “clear rules and standards,” “Canadian interests,” and “values and principles including human rights.”

But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government have repeatedly said that securing the release of Spavor and Kovrig is their top priority.

Detained shortly after Meng’s arrest, the two were held without charges for more than a year. In June, Chinese authorities announced both men would be charged with stealing state secrets.

Meng faces possible extradition to the United States, where the high-powered telecom executive is wanted on fraud charges.

On Tuesday, Cong repeated lines from the Chinese government suggesting the “facts” of the cases against Kovrig and Spavor were clear — despite Chinese authorities releasing almost no “facts” about what the two men are alleged to have done.

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