The federal government must be prepared to expel Chinese diplomats if they are found to be involved in interference or harassment, Canada’s former ambassador to China says.
David Mulroney, who was the government’s envoy to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) between 2009 and 2012, told MPs sitting on a committee studying foreign interference on Tuesday that China is the “primary threat” of that in Canada.
As a result, politicians should implement a series of measures to shore up the country’s protections against foreign meddling, including action up to diplomatic expulsions, he said.
“We must be prepared to expel Chinese diplomats involved in interference or harassment. Our failure to do so only encourages increasingly brazen meddling,” Mulroney told MPs.
“This will trigger retaliation, but we must make it clear that expulsion is the inevitable consequence of such hostile behaviour.”
Canadian relations with China have been uneasy for several years, intensifying in recent months over allegations of attempts to influence and interfere in Canadian affairs.
Global News reported on Nov. 7 that Canadian intelligence officials have warned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that China has allegedly been targeting Canada with a vast campaign of foreign interference, according to Global News sources.
Furthermore, the RCMP has asked anyone with experience of Chinese influence through so-called “police stations” believed to be operating in Canada to come forward.
After Global News’ report broke, Trudeau said the government has “taken significant measures to strengthen the integrity of our elections processes and our systems,” adding that Ottawa will “continue to invest in the fight against election interference, against foreign interference of our democracy and institutions.”
Trudeau also brought up alleged interference in interactions with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 in Bali, Indonesia, late last year. Xi later confronted Trudeau about how it was “not appropriate” that details of those conversations had been shared with news organizations.
Doing so is the norm in Canadian politics.
Late last year, Ottawa released its long-awaited Indo-Pacific strategy, with Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly calling China an “increasingly disruptive global power” in a region where multiple countries are showing major economic growth.
Mulroney told politicians China’s Canada policy is “being advanced aggressively,” with its objective being “a degree of influence in our democracy, our economy, our foreign policy, even daily life in some of our communities.”
He called China’s goals “beyond the ambitions of any other country,” but that it’s “not too late to push back.” China has called allegations of attempted interference “complete nonsense.”
Mulroney suggested that aside from the possibility of diplomatic expulsion, the federal government should consider three other measures, one of them being identifying China as the main threat of foreign interference in Canada.
“Therefore, our defences, including election security, must be designed to counter techniques favoured by Beijing, such as the use of proxies,” he said. Global News reported on Nov. 7 that China’s United Front Work Department operates through Chinese consulates in Canada, from which officials direct funds into Canada’s political system, using communist party proxies.
Second, Ottawa should create a registry of foreign agents, something “that would simply require transparency of those who disperse funds for, lobby for, or speak for foreign states in Canada,” Mulroney said. In April 2021, a private members bill in the House of Commons called for a foreign influence registry, but it did not become law.
Ottawa has promised to launch consultations on a foreign agent registry, but Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino warned on Monday that such a database must be carefully considered, as it could stigmatize communities who have felt targeted by security agencies in the past.
Charles Burton, another former diplomat posted in China, appeared alongside Mulroney on Tuesday and said the registry should be communicated as being directed at the broad issue of interference, instead of the meddling of just one country.
Finally, Canadian police must be more present in diaspora communities, be better informed about PRC interference, and be enabled to protect people who are being “harassed and silenced’ by Chinese officials in Canada, Mulroney added.
“I believe that Beijing’s ambitions and capabilities are growing and because many of the victims of PRC interference in Canada are members of Han Chinese, Uyghur and Tibetan diaspora communities whom Beijing threatens with seeming impunity,” he said.
“A defining characteristic of a truly sovereign nation is the ability to shield its citizens and its institutions from foreign interference.”
— with files from Global News’ Sam Cooper and The Canadian Press