A major diplomatic rift erupted between Canada and China on Tuesday as Beijing expelled a Canadian diplomat in a tit-for-tat move just hours after Ottawa said it had ordered a Chinese envoy to leave amid allegations of influence peddling.
On Monday night, Canada said it had declared a Chinese diplomat who had been accused of intimidating and gathering information on a Canadian lawmaker “persona non grata,” and ordered him to leave. Hours later, China said it was retaliating by expelling a diplomat from the Canadian consulate in Shanghai.
Reports of a Chinese influence campaign have rocked Canada in recent months. The Globe and Mail newspaper and other prominent Canadian news organizations have published a series of articles describing intelligence reports that accuse the Chinese government and its diplomats in Canada of trying to manipulate the last two elections to ensure that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party won.
The goal, according to the reports: prevent a victory by the Conservative Party, which the Chinese viewed as taking a hard line toward Beijing. The reports set off a political firestorm, raising questions about the integrity of Canada’s democracy. China has denied the claims.
An independent report, made public in March, concluded that while China, Russia and Iran had tried to interfere in the 2019 and 2021 elections, they had no effect on the results.
In a statement on Monday, Mélanie Joly, Canada’s foreign minister, said that the decision to boot the diplomat, Zhao Wei, was made “after careful consideration of all factors at play.”
“Diplomats in Canada have been warned that if they engage in this type of behavior, they will be sent home,” she added. “We will not tolerate any form of foreign interference.”
The Globe, citing a top-secret document from 2021, also reported that Mr. Zhao had been involved in gathering information about Michael Chong, a Conservative member of Parliament, and his family in China in a possible effort to “make an example” of him.
In 2021, Mr. Chong drew the ire of Beijing for sponsoring a motion to declare China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority a genocide. Beijing then imposed sanctions against Mr. Chong, barring him from entering the country and prohibiting Chinese citizens from conducting business with him.
That year, a report by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service on a possible Chinese influence campaign also included information about potential threats to Mr. Chong.
China’s Consulate in Toronto, where Mr. Zhao is based and listed as the head of the intergovernmental and media office, said in a statement last week, “The claim has no factual basis and is totally groundless.”
It was not clear if Mr. Zhao had been given a deadline to leave the country.
Describing Canada’s move as “unscrupulous,” China retaliated by ordering Jennifer Lalonde, a diplomat at the Canadian Consulate in Shanghai, to leave no later than Saturday. In a statement, China’s foreign ministry also said that Beijing “reserves the right to further react.”
Diplomatic expulsions are not common. In 2018, Canada joined Western allies in booting Russian envoys in the wake of accusations that Kremlin agents used a nerve agent to poison a former Russian spy, Sergei V. Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, 33.
After Ms. Joly’s announcement, Mr. Chong told reporters, “It shouldn’t have taken two years for the government to make this decision.” He has said he was “profoundly disappointed” to find out about the potential threat to his family from a newspaper, and criticized Mr. Trudeau’s government for inaction. He had persistently called for Mr. Zhao’s expulsion since the Globe’s report.
After Mr. Trudeau said he had not been aware of accusations that Chinese diplomats were targeting Canadian lawmakers, Mr. Chong responded on Twitter last week, “This is a complete failure of leadership on part of the PM.”
Tensions between Ottawa and Beijing have flared before, perhaps most notably in December 2018, when Canada arrested a top executive of the telecommunications firm Huawei at the request of the United States. China retaliated by detaining two Canadian citizens, who were released after the Huawei executive, Meng Wanzhou, reached a deal to return to China.
John Liu contributed reporting.