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Canada 'will not be intimidated' after China expels diplomat: Trudeau

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who says his country will not be 'intimidated' by China. ©AFP

Ottawa (AFP) - Canada won't be intimidated by China's tit-for-tat expulsion of a Canadian consul, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday, after Ottawa this week ousted a Chinese diplomat accused of targeting a lawmaker critical of Beijing.

The Canadian leader said his administration took the decision to expel the Chinese official "to send a very clear message that we will not accept foreign interference."

"Whatever next choices they make, we will not be intimidated," he told reporters in Ottawa, after the quickly escalating row saw Beijing accuse Canada of seeking to "sabotage" relations with its second-largest trading partner.

Following years of cool relations, tensions flared on Monday when Canada announced the expulsion of Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei at its consulate in Toronto.

Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said it was a clear demonstration of Ottawa's resolve to defend its democracy.

She acted after local media revealed China's intelligence agency had planned to target MP Michael Chong and his relatives in Hong Kong with sanctions for sponsoring a 2021 motion that condemned Beijing's conduct in the Xinjiang region as genocide.

A few hours later China responded by expelling the Canadian consul in Shanghai, Jennifer Lalonde, accusing Canadian politicians and media of hyping up the allegations of foreign meddling in Canadian affairs.

This was characterized by Beijing as "a reciprocal countermeasure in reaction to Canada's unscrupulous move."

Beijing also said it filed an official protest with Ottawa over breaches of international law and diplomatic norms, and warned that it "reserves the right to further react."

Joly said Tuesday that Canadians would be made aware of the "different risks" of travelling to China.

'Significant and serious step'

Trudeau acknowledged that "declaring a foreign diplomat persona non grata is a significant and serious step."

He said Ottawa's move "demonstrates firmness" in pushing back."We will continue to do everything necessary to keep Canadians protected from foreign interference or fear," he said.

The head of a minority liberal government, Trudeau has faced growing pressure to take a hard line on China following revelations in recent months that it sought to sway Canada's 2019 and 2021 elections in his party's favour.

The diplomatic expulsion followed an outcry in Canada over the fresh allegations of targeting Chong.

Beijing "almost certainly meant to make an example of this MP and deter others from taking anti-PRC positions," the Globe and Mail newspaper last week cited a Canadian intelligence document as saying, using an acronym for the People's Republic of China.

Zhao Wei allegedly played a key role in the scheme.

Chong said Monday that "it shouldn't have taken the targeting of a member of Parliament to make this (expulsion) decision."

He also lamented that Canada had become "a playground for foreign interference," including the harassment of diaspora communities.

Relations between Beijing and Ottawa have been tense since Canada's 2018 arrest on a US warrant of a top Huawei executive, and the detention of two Canadian nationals in China in apparent retaliation, along with bans on Canadian agricultural exports such as canola and pork.

All three -- Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor -- were eventually released, and the trade restrictions have been lifted.

But Beijing has continued to blast Ottawa for aligning with Washington's China policy, while Canadian officials regularly accused China of interference.

The two countries have also traded barbs over tech, with Canada moving to block Chinese firms' involvement in the build-out of next-generation communications infrastructure and critical minerals mining in this country.

In March, Trudeau appointed an independent special investigator to probe all of the China meddling allegations.

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