Trudeau Says Canada Won’t Stop Calling for Human Rights After Chinese Ambassador’s Warning on Hong Kong

Conservative Party Leader Erin O'Toole says the ambassador's remarks were a threat to Canadians, and he should apologize or be kicked out
October 16, 2020 Updated: October 18, 2020

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Ottawa will continue to “stand up loudly and clearly for human rights” after Chinese Ambassador Cong Peiwu’s warning that Canada should not grant asylum to Hong Kong refugees if it cares about their “good health and safety.”

“Whether it’s talking about the situation by the Uyghurs, whether it’s talking about the very concerning situation in Hong Kong, whether it’s calling out China for its coercive diplomacy, these are thing we will continue to do,” Trudeau said in a news conference on Oct. 16 after being asked about the ambassador’s remarks.

“We will make sure China knows not only are we standing up for human rights, calling for the safe return of the two Michales who are arbitrarily detained, but we stand with allies around the world, the United States, Australia, the Great Britain, European nations, many nations in every corner of the world, who share these concerns.”

Trudeau said Ottawa isn’t looking to “escalate,” but said Canada is “standing up for our rights, for our principles, for our values.”

Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole said Cong’s statement was a threat to the 300,000 Canadians living in Hong Kong.

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Conservative Party Erin O’Toole rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Oct. 7, 2020. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)

“It was of the kind of tone and tenor one would expect from someone seeking protection money—not someone who is the official emissary of a member of the United Nations Security Council,” O’Toole said in a statement.

“A threat to Canadians anywhere, is a threat to Canadians everywhere.”

O’Toole said Cong should retract his remarks and issue a public apology, and if he refuses to do so, he should be kicked out. O’Toole also called on the government to sanction those responsible for restricting freedoms in Hong Kong, and to expedite refugee cases of those fleeing Hong Kong to Canada “to make it clear that only the Canadian government will determine who does and does not get admitted to this country.”

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China’s Ambassador to Canada Cong Peiwu speaks at an event in Ottawa on March 4, 2020. (The Canadian Press/Justin Tang)

On Sept. 15, Cong warned Canada against granting asylum to Hong Kong residents fleeing the city due to the national security law imposed by Beijing, saying it would amount to “interference in China’s domestic affairs and certainly it will embolden those violent criminals.”

“So 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, you should support those efforts to fight violent crimes,” Cong said in a video press conference from the Chinese Embassy marking the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Canada and China.

Michael Chong, Conservative shadow minister for foreign affairs, also condemned Cong’s comments.

“This is outrageous,” he said on Twitter. “Last year, China’s envoy said Canadians are white supremacists – this from a country that’s detained a million Uighurs. Now, this envoy says Canada’s acceptance of Hong Kong refugees jeopardizes Canadians in Hong Kong.”

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather also criticized Cong.

“The comments of the Chinese Ambassador to Canada are completely unacceptable. It makes me all the more determined to speak out against China’s arbitrary detention of the 2 Michaels and its actions in HK and against the Uighurs,” he wrote on Twitter.

Beijing implemented the new national-security law in Hong Kong in June, allowing the regime’s law enforcement to exercise jurisdiction over the city, eroding its autonomy.

Canada has started granting asylum to Hong Kong pro-democracy activists as part of the global response to Beijing’s move.

“We strongly urge the Canadian side not to grant so-called political asylum to those violent criminals in Hong Kong,” Cong said at his press conference.

Alliance Canada Hong Kong, a group calling for Canadian support of Hong Kong, also condemned Cong’s remarks.

“We will not stand down. We ask you to continue your support for Hong Kongers and those seeking for a safe haven. Please email and contact your MP to show your support!”

Shuvaloy Majumdar, a former director of policy to Canada’s foreign minister, said via Twitter: “Brutal threat against Canadians by the Chinese Ambassador to Canada.”

Alex Neve, former secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, said on Twitter, “Talk about strengthening the case for refugee status!”

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A woman holds a sign with photographs of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who have been detained in China since December, 2018, during a rally in support of Hong Kong democracy in Vancouver on Aug. 16, 2020. (The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck)

During a press conference on Oct. 15 marking the 50th anniversary of Canada’s diplomatic ties with China, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke more strongly than in the past regarding Beijing’s arrest of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. The two have been detained in China since shortly after Canada’s arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver in December 2018 for extradition to the United States.

“We will remain absolutely committed to working with our allies to ensure that China’s approach of coercive diplomacy, its arbitrary detention of two Canadian citizens, alongside other citizens of other countries around the world, is not viewed as a successful tactic by them,” he said.

Cong said Canada’s efforts to get its allies to help secure the release of Kovrig and Spavor are “doomed to fail”

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan recently called the detention of the two Canadians “hostage diplomacy.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne is expected to unveil a new foreign policy approach for dealing with Beijing later this year.

‘White Supremacists’

This is not the first time a Chinese official has lashed out against Canada.

On Dec. 5, 2019, in response to a motion that was yet to be tabled by two Conservative senators calling for Ottawa to use the Magnitsky law to sanction Chinese officials involved in rights violations in Hong Kong, Cong said Beijing would “make very firm countermeasures to this,” and that “it is not in the interest of the Canada side.”

Cong’s predecessor, Lu Shaye, called Canada and its Western allies “white supremacists” in January 2019 for demanding the release of Kovrig and Spavor.

“The reason why some people are used to arrogantly adopting double standards is due to Western egotism and white supremacy,” Lu wrote in a Hill Times op-ed.

After Meng was first arrested, Beijing warned Ottawa that if she was not released  immediately there would be “serious consequences.”

During a news conference in Ottawa in June 2016, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi appeared visibly angry and snapped at a reporter who asked him about China’s human rights record and the jailing in China of Canadian Kevin Garratt.

Wang said the “question is full of prejudice against China and arrogance. … This is totally unacceptable.”