Canada and China expel diplomats in tit-for-tat


Briefly: Canada declared Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei ‘persona non grata’ this week, expelling him for his alleged role in an effort to intimidate a Canadian lawmaker. China responded by expelling a Canadian diplomat the next day.

What was it all about?

  • 🙅‍♂️ The Canadian politicianhad backed a 2021 parliamentary motion to condemn Beijing’s treatment of its Uyghur population
  • 🔎 In response, the Chinese diplomat (Zhao) allegedly helped target the Canadian politician’s family in China for possible reprisals. Yikes.

Canada’s intelligence service first detected all this back in 2021, but the story stayed under wraps until a top secret report was leaked to media this month. And that piled the pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to boot Zhao.

The last time Canada did this was in 2018, when Ottawa (politely) booted four Russian diplomats in response to Moscow’s poisoning of an ex-spy in the UK.

Intrigue’s take: You might be wondering why Zhao was allowed to remain in Canada for two years after his behaviour was discovered. And you’re not alone – the Canadian politician at the centre of the furore has asked the same question.

The answer might be a simple stuff-up: the prime minister says nobody told him about the case (Trudeau didn’t have a national security advisor at the time).

And the answer might relate to asymmetry. China can absorb more diplomatic expulsions, impose more trade costs, and impose heavier personal costs on Canadians in China (including several on death row) than the inverse.

And that’s enough for most governments to weigh up their options very carefully.

Also worth noting:

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