China on Tuesday expelled a Canadian diplomat in Shanghai, a day after Canada announced it would expel a Chinese diplomat over allegations he was involved in efforts to intimidate a Canadian politician.
In a statement Tuesday, China’s Foreign Ministry said it strongly condemned the expulsion of Toronto-based diplomat Zhao Wei, and as “reciprocal countermeasure,” would declare Jennifer Lynn Lalonde, a consul of the Consulate General of Canada in Shanghai, persona non grata.
Lalonde has been asked to leave China before May 13, according to the statement.
The tit-for-tat move marks a new low in a years-long deterioration of ties between the two countries and comes amid a period of rising concerns in Canada about Chinese influence, including public uproar over allegations that China attempted to meddle in Canada’s 2019 and 2021 elections.
Hours after Beijing announced it would expel Lalonde, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson at a regular briefing threatened that China would “resolutely and forcefully respond” if the Canadian government “keeps acting recklessly” and accused Canadian media and some politicians of “fabricating false information.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday that Canada would “not be intimidated” by Beijing’s reaction.
“We will take whatever action is necessary to continue to protect our democracy and show that we’re standing up for our values and our principles. We understand there is retaliation but we will not be intimidated,” Trudeau said.
Canada moved to expel Zhao on Monday, following mounting public pressure on the Canadian government to respond to revelations the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) found an accredited Chinese diplomat in the country had taken efforts toward targeting opposition lawmaker Michael Chong and relatives who may be in China.
The alleged targeting took place after Chong sponsored a motion to condemn China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority group. The intelligence was first reported by Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail earlier this month.
Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly on Monday said Ottawa “will not tolerate any form of foreign interference in our internal affairs. Diplomats in Canada have been warned that if they engage in this type of behaviour, they will be sent home.”
Beijing has repeatedly denied accusations of political interference in Canada.
The two countries’ relations have already come under significant strain in recent years, in particular following Beijing’s detention of two Canadians in China in move widely seen as retaliation for Canada’s 2018 arrest of a Chinese businesswoman Meng Wanzhou.
Beijing repeatedly denied that their cases were political retaliation, but the two men, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor, were released on the same day Meng was allowed by Canada to return to China in 2021.
There have also been growing public concern about alleged Chinese interference within the country, including through the operation of overseas police stations and policing of speech in the country, which has a large community of people with Chinese heritage.
Allegations of Chinese interference in Canadian politics have become a growing challenge for the government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who earlier this year initiated an investigation to identify and combat foreign interference in Canada’s elections and its democracy.
Trudeau has said intelligence services had failed to brief him about the alleged targeting of Chong. His Foreign Ministry summoned Chinese Ambassador to Canada Cong Peiwu last week after the media reporting on the intelligence emerged.
Chong, who represents the Wellington-Halton Hills district in Ontario, had called for Zhao’s expulsion and criticized Trudeau’s government for being too slow to act.
In a statement posted to Twitter on May 1, Chong said that he found out about the intelligence – which was referenced in a 2021 CSIS report – through the Globe and Mail report, despite having been briefed on general foreign interference threats by CSIS.
“Like many Canadians, I have family abroad. The PRC’s (People’s Republic of China) targeting of family abroad to intimidate and coerce Canadians here at home is a serious, national threat,” Chong wrote in the statement, in which he says he has family in Hong Kong.
Chong was among several political figures sanctioned by China in March 2021 in what Beijing called a response to American and Canadian sanctions against individuals and entities in its western region of Xinjiang “based on rumors and disinformation.”
China has been accused of committing serious human rights violations that may amount to crimes against humanity in its treatment of Uyghur and other Muslim minorities in the region. Beijing denies the claims, and rights groups have documented its efforts to quash international focus on the situation there.
In February 2021, Canada’s parliament passed its non-binding motion saying China’s treatment of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region constitutes genocide.
China has yet to specify what “countermeasures” it may take in response to Zhao’s expulsion, but these could include a tit-for-tat expulsion of a diplomat at Canada’s mission in China.
Beijing is also widely seen to have a track record of using economic or trade-related measures to express displeasure with diplomatic partners.
The expelled diplomat Zhao was listed in the Department of Global Affairs’ record of foreign diplomats as working in China’s Toronto consulate, the Globe and Mail reported earlier this month.
His name was not visible in a CNN search of the directory of China’s foreign representatives Monday night.
Prior to naming Zhao as “persona non grata” Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister Joly last week said Canada’s government needed to carefully weigh how China might react to a Canadian response.
China would “of course” take action against Canada’s “economic interest, consumer interest and also diplomatic interests,” Joly told parliamentarians on Thursday, adding that, “I know that we are under pressure to go fast, (but) we need to make sure as well that we protect our democracy.”
CNN’s Shawn Deng in Toronto contributed reporting.