China is lashing out against Canada and other like-minded countries, stating on Twitter that the countries will “pay a price” following the imposition of sanctions against Chinese officials.
Canada slapped sanctions on four Chinese officials and one entity on Monday in relation to what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the “gross and systematic human rights violations” taking place in the Xinjiang region. The U.S., U.K. and E.U. all issued similar sanctions on the same day.
The move has infuriated China.
“What the US, UK, Canada and EU have done is utter denigration and offense to the reputation and dignity of the Chinese people, blatant interference of China’s internal affairs, and grave violation of China’s sovereignty and security interests,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.
Hua went onto issue a direct threat to the countries that issued the sanctions.
“China is not what it was 120 years ago,” Hua wrote, adding that “colluding individuals” should “think twice if they think they could make wanton smears with impunity.”
“The west shall entertain no illusion as regards China’s firm determination to defend national interests and dignity. It’s a courtesy to reciprocate what we receive. They will have to pay a price for their ignorance and arrogance.”
In a statement issued earlier on Monday, Canada’s Department of Global Affairs explained that the sanctions come amid “mounting evidence” that points to “systemic, state-led human rights violations by Chinese authorities.”
“This includes the mass arbitrary detention of more than 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities on the basis of their religion and ethnicity, as well as political re-education, forced labour, torture and forced sterilization,” the statement read.
In a further show of a multi-country consensus, a joint statement was released by the foreign ministers of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, and the United States Secretary of State on Monday afternoon.
“China’s extensive program of repression includes severe restrictions on religious freedoms, the use of forced labour, mass detention in internment camps, forced sterilisations, and the concerted destruction of Uyghur heritage.”
Not to be outdone by the international display of like-mindedness, Hua included warnings about the growing allyship between Russia and China in her Tuesday tweetstorm. She said the two countries will “jointly and resolutely” defend “international justice” and “fairness.”
“China (and) Russia, with great sense of commitment (and) responsibility as major countries in the world (and) permanent members of the (United Nations Security Council), will give strong backing to each other on issues of core interests as important partners,” Hua wrote.
China hints at growing partnership with Russia
Speaking to Global News in an interview on Tuesday, Charles Burton, a senior fellow and China expert at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, said the global community has “always been concerned” about the possibility of an alliance between Russia and China.
However, he said he has his doubts about the two countries’ ability to work together.
“Russia does not favour China becoming the dominant power on the planet, and China certainly doesn’t see Russia as in any way equal to China’s geostrategic reach,” Burton said.
“So while there’s a lot of concern about the potential if those two hostile powers allied against the Democratic West up to now, they don’t seem to be able to coordinate effectively.”
Canada, the United States and other countries with similar values are slated to do some coordination of their own next month at U.S. President Joe Biden’s scheduled Summit of Democracy. Burton said that China, meanwhile, is likely eyeing the looming meeting with some trepidation.
“I think the Chinese communists have correctly interpreted (the summit) as a means for nations of the world who believe in fair, and reciprocal, and just diplomatic and trade interaction to come up with a coordinated approach to pressure the Chinese government to get into compliance with the accepted norms of the global community,” Burton said.
He added that he believes the coordinated action China is seeing from Western states will prove “effective” in “getting China to understand that everybody’s interests are better served by playing by the rules.”
And as the tensions with China continue to boil over, Canada is standing firmly behind its sanctions. Speaking to reporters on Monday, Trudeau said he has “grave concerns” about what’s taking place in Xinjiang.
“We will continue to work closely with our international partners to pursue accountability and transparency,” he said.
Spavor, Kovrig await verdict amid sanctions
Still, the move doesn’t come without risk. Two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, are currently arbitrarily detained in China. After both men had trials in the last week, Spavor and Kovrig are currently awaiting a verdict from the Chinese judicial system.
Both Spavor and Kovrig have been accused of espionage, a crime that is punishable in China by life in prison with a minimum sentence of 10 years. Chinese courts boast a 99.7 per cent conviction rate, meaning that once a trial is commenced, the odds of being convicted are all but a guarantee.
The two Canadians were detained in December 2018 in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver. The arrest was at the behest of the United States, which had requested her extradition.
Canada’s sanctions against China came just hours after the conclusion of Kovrig’s trial, though Trudeau insists the two events were not related.
“No. There is no link between these two events. We’ve been denouncing the arbitrary detention of the two Michaels for some time now,” Trudeau said, speaking in French.
However, as Spavor and Kovrig face the potential of a lifetime in Chinese prison, Canada is facing a delicate time in its diplomatic relations with China.
“We continue, together, to push for their freedom,” Trudeau said on Monday.
“Their arbitrary detention is unacceptable, and we won’t give up until both are here at home.”
— With files from Global News’ Mike Le Couteur