The diplomatic spat between Canada and China grew more heated on Monday as Beijing denounced media criticism of its ambassador to Ottawa, only to have Canada’s deputy prime minister and opposition leader echo the criticism.
The exchange comes at a moment when ties between the two countries are at their lowest point in years, largely due to Beijing’s outrage over Ottawa’s detention of a top executive of Huawei Technologies Co and the subsequent arrest of two Canadians.
The new friction arose when Chinese Ambassador to Canada Cong Peiwu (叢培武) branded pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong as violent criminals and said that if Canada grants them asylum, it would amount to interference in China’s internal affairs.
“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 [Special Administrative Region], you should support those efforts to fight violent crimes,” Cong said on Thursday in a video news conference from the Chinese embassy.
Asked if his remarks amounted to a threat, Cong replied: “That is your interpretation.”
Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said in parliament on Monday that Cong’s comments “are not in any way in keeping with the spirit of appropriate diplomatic countries between two countries.”
Freeland said Canada would speak out for human rights in China and that it would support its citizens living in Hong Kong.
“Let me also reassure the 300,000 Canadians in Hong Kong that a Canadian is a Canadian and we will stand with them,” she said.
Her statements came hours after Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian (趙立堅) told reporters that his government had complained to Canada over media criticism of Cong’s remarks.
He said Canadian leaders “did not verify, but also condoned the anti-China comments spreading across the nation and made groundless accusations against China.”
He did not specify the media criticism, but the Toronto Sun on Saturday published an editorial calling on Cong to apologize.
“If he won’t apologize and retract his threats, boot him back to Beijing,” the editorial said.
Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole said that Cong had threatened Canadians in Hong Kong and called on the envoy to either apologize or leave.
Cherie Wong (王卓妍), executive director of Alliance Canada Hong Kong, called Cong’s comment a “direct threat” to all Canadians.
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