In a development that will have far-reaching consequences for Beijing, and which will further send Sino-Canadian bilateral ties into a deep freeze, the Chinese envoy to Canada has threatened Canadian passport holders currently residing in Hong Kong. As is known already, Hong Kong has been stripped of its autonomous status by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as it took to imposing the draconian National Security Law in the erstwhile free region in late July this year. For China to diplomatically threaten the health and safety of Canadians living in Hong Kong, however, is a bizarreness of a new kind.
In what bears testimony to the China of 2020 increasingly behaving like the Middle Kingdom that it once was and wants to again be, a top Chinese diplomat – Cong Peiwu has threatened Canadians living in Hong Kong if Canada refuses to bow down to Chinese pressure. Canada has recently granted political asylum to a Hong Kong couple who had participated in the magnanimous pro-democracy protests in the city last year. This, on expected lines, has infuriated Beijing, as it realises that Canada is now turning into a safe haven for those who flee Hong Kong fearing persecution by the CCP.
“We strongly urge the Canadian side not (to) grant so-called political asylum to those violent criminals in Hong Kong because it is the interference in China’s domestic affairs. And certainly, it will embolden those violent criminals,” Beijing’s envoy to Ottawa said in a video press conference.
In a borderline explicit threat, Cong Peiwu also added, “So if the Canadian side really cares about the stability and the prosperity in Hong Kong, and really cares 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, you should support those efforts to fight violent crimes.”
On being asked if this was a direct threat to the Canadians living in Hong Kong, Cong replied, “That’s your interpretation.” The Canadian Foreign Ministry, led by Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne was quick to respond to such Chinese threats, as Ottawa took to describing them as “totally unacceptable and disturbing”. “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,” Champagne said.
As China and Canada mark 50 years of diplomatic ties between them, 2020 has come as a year where bilateral ties between the two have nosedived like never before. It is important to mention here that Meng Wanzhou (Huawei CFO and daughter of top CCP-loyalist and Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei) has been under arrest in Canada since 2018 for flouting sanctions imposed by the U.S on Iran. The massive bone of contention for China is Canada’s detention of Meng on an arrest warrant issued by U.S authorities.
For one Meng Wanzhou, China is willing to behave much like a rogue state, threatening the safety of 300,000 Canadian passport holders in Hong Kong. Effectively, Beijing’s message to Ottawa is crystal clear- hand over the Huawei CFO or stare at the possibility of 300,000 Canadians being persecuted by the CCP. In case there were any doubts as to where North Korea took its lessons in going rogue from, we now know where the knowledge has flowed from.
A Canadian court had dismissed Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou’s application for “double criminality” a few months ago, hence paving the way for her imminent extradition to the US. China, as a consequence, desperately came out all guns blazing against the judicial ruling, following which Trudeau took a rare and perhaps first-of-its-kind swipe at Beijing, saying, “Canada has an independent judicial system that functions without interference or override by politicians.” He added, “China doesn’t work quite the same way and (doesn’t) seem to understand that we do have an independent judiciary from political intervention.
China has been particularly unnerved following such statements by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, with the latest one coming in the form of him saying that Canada would be working with its allies to fight China’s “coercive diplomacy.” He had even warned that arbitrary arrests, repression in Hong Kong and putting Muslim minorities in detention camps added up to “not a particularly productive path.” China, in a tit-for-tat move, and in signs of Beijing indulging in hostage diplomacy, had arrested two Canadian nationals – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who it is now using as hostages against Ottawa in order to get Meng Wanzhou freed.
The Trudeau administration had earlier also shunted out Huawei from supplying tech and infrastructure for the development of 5G technology in Canada, and instead got two Canadian telecom carriers – BCE Inc. (parent company of Bell) and Telus Corp to use equipment from Nokia and Ericsson to build out their next-generation 5G networks in Canada.
As Canada intensifies its diplomatic fight against China by now extending asylum to fleeing Hong Kongers, Beijing is naturally getting rattled and is obviously running out of options to deal with a new form of Justin Trudeau’s aggressive foreign policy. Essentially, China has gotten itself into yet another fight it does not seem to have the capacity to fight, leave alone win.