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May 19, 2023
China's ambassador warns Trudeau off 'provocation' as diplomatic ties fray
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China’s ambassador is urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to avoid further “provocation” as Canada weighs whether to launch a public inquiry into claims the Chinese government meddled in its elections.
Ambassador Cong Peiwu said Friday that Canada should consider returning to a more independent foreign policy rather than following the lead of the U.S., its neighbor and biggest trading partner.
“We would like to see the relationship back on track, but it’s up to the Canadian side to make sure that they will correct mistakes and not to be engaged in any further provocation or confrontation,” Cong said in an interview.
Cong spoke for nearly 30 minutes inside the opulent Chinese Embassy in Ottawa, which opened in the early 1970s after Trudeau’s father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. The U.S. didn’t establish formal diplomatic ties with China until 1979.
The younger Trudeau’s relationship with China has been thornier. China detained two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, in 2018 after the arrest of a top Huawei Technologies executive, Meng Wanzhou, in Vancouver on a U.S. extradition warrant.
When the U.S. ended its case against Meng and the “two Michaels” were released from prison in 2021, Cong said he hoped at the time the Canadian government would “draw lessons” from the dispute.
“Unfortunately, this time they still did something to provoke us and undermine the relationship,” he said.
Trudeau has been plagued by a months-long political controversy over allegations that Chinese officials covertly interfered in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections that returned his Liberal Party to power in a minority parliament.
The claims, published by the Globe and Mail and Global News and citing leaks from Canada’s national security establishment, have prompted a near-daily barrage of questions about the Trudeau government’s knowledge and handling of the alleged interference.
Earlier this month, Canada expelled a Chinese diplomat accused of targeting a Conservative lawmaker and his family in Hong Kong, prompting China to turf a Canadian envoy in response.
Cong said China’s expulsion of the diplomat was a “fully justified and necessary” counter-measure to Canada’s move.
Reflecting on the deterioration of the Canada-China relationship since the elder Trudeau was in office, Cong noted that 50 years ago the Cold War was at its peak but the two countries were able to overcome their differences.
“We hope today that people will continue to approach this relationship from the larger picture and from the overall interest of our two peoples — and not to be swayed, bounded by the influence, the policy from the south,” Cong said.
He pointed to the Group of Seven summit underway in Japan, where countries are discussing a joint effort to counter “economic coercion” by China that could allow allies to co-ordinate actions such as trade and investment restrictions. “The United States is asking those allies to form a kind of a small group and to do things to try to suppress China’s development,” he said. “I think that’s dangerous.”
On the domestic front, opposition politicians have demanded a full public inquiry into Chinese election interference. Trudeau instead appointed a watchdog to probe the claims and determine next steps. The person, former Governor General David Johnston, is set to provide his recommendation on an inquiry on Tuesday.
Cong, asked whether he would co-operate with an inquiry if one is called, urged Canada to respect Chinese diplomats and consulate officials performing their duties lawfully.
The ambassador reiterated his government’s position that it has never meddled in Canadian internal affairs and accused those making the claims of acting out of “ideological bias.”
“Some people here are using this hyped-up issue to slander China’s image,” he said.
--With assistance from Randy Thanthong-Knight.
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