China’s Dog-eared Diplomatic Playbook Spans Expulsions, Trade, and More

High-profile expulsions, allegations of foreign interference, and comments about “slave labour” have cooled Canada-China relations of late and renewed interest in China’s thick playbook of diplomatic 'countermeasures.'

A long week in Canada-China relations

On Monday, Ottawa expelled Zhao Wei, a "consular assistant” accused of foreign interference, from China’s consulate in Toronto. China’s embassy in Ottawa said the move “sabotaged” China-Canada relations and promised “resolute countermeasures.” Hours later, China’s foreign ministry expelled Jennifer Lalonde, a Canadian consul of the Consulate General of Canada in Shanghai, adding that “China reserves the right to further react.”

Lalonde’s expulsion was not, however, a “tit-for-tat": Canada losing a consul is more damaging than China losing a consular assistant. But Ottawa’s hands may be tied: if the government tries to 'even the score,' Canada faces possible recriminations for escalating an already tense situation.  

Past countermeasures

China has used various measures in past spats with Asia Pacific countries, including Canada. Australia’s push for an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 led to a slew of Chinese trade controls on goods, including cotton, barley, beef, lamb, lobster, timber, wine, and more.

And in 2017, China expelled 32 South Korean Christian missionaries amid bilateral tensions prompted by the planned deployment of a U.S. missile-defence system in South Korea.

China also uses inaction to send a message: CBC’s Beijing bureau was “forced” to shutter last year after Chinese officials reportedly ignored repeated requests for a Radio-Canada journalist’s work visa, putting an end to the broadcaster’s 40-year-plus presence in the country.