China warns Canada to halt ‘blatant interference’ as feud continues

By Leyland Cecco

China has warned Canadian lawmakers to halt their “blatant interference” in its internal affairs, in the latest episode of a rumbling diplomatic feud between the two nations.

Earlier this week, a Canadian parliamentary committee concluded China’s actions against ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang province constituted a genocide and called for sanctions against officials complicit in the government’s policy.

“Witnesses were clear that the Government of China’s actions are a clear attempt to eradicate Uyghur culture and religion,” the committee wrote.

Speaking to reporters late on Thursday, China’s foreign minister Zhao Lijian condemned the committee’s findings, saying the report was “full of lies and disinformation”.

Zhao also used his press conference to level a warning, urging Canada to “exercise caution in its words and deeds” in order to “avoid further damage to China-Canada relations”.

China’s response underscores the extent to which relations between the two nations continue to sour.

Last week, only days after the two countries observed the 50-year anniversary of diplomatic relations, China’s ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu accused Canada of encouraging “violent criminals” as it considered granting refugee status to Hong Kong pro-democracy activists.

Deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland said Cong’s remarks were “not appropriate” for a diplomat. “Let me also reassure the 300,000 Canadians in Hong Kong that a Canadian is a Canadian and we will stand with them,” Freeland said. Meanwhile, Conservative opposition leader Erin O’Toole, called for an apology from Cong or face expulsion.

In recent years, Canada and China had both expressed hope of building stronger ties. But the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in December 2018 marked a fatal blow to relations between the two nations.

China quickly retaliated, detaining Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, charging the pair under dubious “espionage” charges. Canada has repeatedly called for the men, who have been held for more than 650 days in “arbitrary detention” to be released.

China temporarily halted canola and pork exports last year, a move that cost industry millions in losses. Canada has mulled barring Huawei from building 5G mobile infrastructure in the country, citing security concerns.

On Thursday Zhao said Canada’s report on the Uihgurs had “turned a blind eye to the political stability” in the region and represented parliament’s “ignorance and prejudice” on the topic.

Foreign minister François-Philipe Champagne said he welcomed the report’s findings, but did not confirm if the federal government would impose sanctions on Chinese officials.