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China’s ambassador to Canada is urging Ottawa to stop granting asylum to democracy activists from Hong Kong, whom he described as “violent criminals” and warned that accepting these people could jeopardize the “health and safety” of 300,000 Canadian citizens still living in the former British colony.
Asked if he was issuing a threat, envoy Cong Peiwu replied: “That is your interpretation.”
Mr. Cong used a press conference Thursday to say that Beijing finds it unacceptable that Canada recently accepted two Hong Kong pro-democracy dissidents as political refugees. He also took strong exception to a call from nearly 60 Canadian MPs and senators to shelter more Hong Kong residents fleeing China’s draconian national-security law.
“We strongly urge the Canadian side not to grant so-called political asylum to those violent criminals in Hong Kong because it is interference in China’s domestic affairs and certainly it will embolden those violent criminals,” he said.
As The Globe and Mail first reported, at least two Hong Kong activists have been accepted as refugees in Canada, with the decision to grant protection coming in early September. More than 45 other dissidents are waiting on approval for asylum, sources have told The Globe.
Mr. Cong indicated any further action to offer shelter to Hong Kong residents could have consequences for the many Canadians living in the Asian financial hub.
“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 . . . you should support those efforts to fight violent crimes,” he said.
More than three months ago Beijing imposed a new national-security law on Hong Kong that criminalizes dissent and protest with penalties up to life in prison.
Mr. Cong defended this measure, saying it provides for stability.
“I want to make clear that a stable and prosperous Hong Kong …is not only in the interest of the vast majority of Hong Kong residents but it is also conducive to the majority of those foreign, law-abiding foreigners and enterprises in Hong Kong,” he said.
The ambassador also said Beijing would respond with a “strong reaction” if the Canadian Parliament was to pass any resolution that condemned as “genocide” China’s treatment of its Muslim Uyghur minority. More than one million Uyghurs are behind held in detention camps in Xinjiang province, facilities the Chinese government calls “vocational and education training centres.”
“We will take resolute measures to safeguard our sovereignty and national security,” he said. He rejected widespread allegations that genocide is taking place in Xinjiang, saying the Uyghurs “live in harmony … and our [China’s] human rights record is the best in history.”
Mr. Cong also lashed out Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who on Tuesday marked the 50th anniversary of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations by accusing China of resorting to “coercive diplomacy” in its crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses against Uyghurs and arbitrary detentions of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
“There is no coercive diplomacy on the Chinese side,” he said. “The Hong Kong issue and the Xinjiang-related issue are not about the issue of human rights. They are purely about internal affairs of China, which brooks no interference from the outside.”
Canada’s Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan last week described Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, who were locked up days after Ottawa arrested a Chinese Huawei executive on an extradition request from the U.S., as “victims” of Chinese “hostage diplomacy.” But Mr. Cong insisted Thursday there is no connection between the cases, saying the two men are suspected of “engaging in activities which endangered our national security.”
Mr. Cong called for the immediate release of senior Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou and praised former Canadian officials and diplomats from the Jean Chretien era who have publicly urged a prisoner exchange. The two Canadians were imprisoned in December 2018 shortly after Ms. Meng was detained on a U.S. extradition request over allegations of bank fraud relating to violations of American sanctions against Iran.
More than 60 MPs and senators signed a joint statement Thursday calling on the Prime Minister to create a special “safe harbour program” to shelter Hong Kong residents and offer them permanent residency. Canada-Hong Kong ties are extremely strong with more than half a million Canadians tracing their roots to the city and 300,000 Canadians there today.
Canadians of Hong Kong origin on Thursday urged Canada to do more.
“Hong Kong has been turned into a police state. Over 10,000 people have been arrested, the youngest of them 11 years old,” Gloria Fung, president of Canada-Hong Kong Link, said at a press conference Thursday. “There have been numerous disappearances and apparent killings made to look like suicide.”
“Our prime minister has pledged to help protect human rights worldwide however earnest words of concern have not helped the people of Hong Kong as they face a worsening humanitarian. Shamefully, Canada’s federal government has done little to help,” she said.
Mr. Trudeau faced criticism for moving quickly to impose sanctions on officials in economically insignificant countries such as Belarus but ignoring repeated calls to slap sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials for human-rights abuses in Hong Kong.
“We can only conclude our elected officials … are intimidated by the political and economic clout of China,” Mabel Tung, chair of the Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement, said.
The 17 civil rights groups including Democracy and Human Rights for China and Friends of Hong Kong Calgary urged Canada to remove pandemic restrictions that prevent would-be refugees flying here to seek asylum.
They called on Canada to categorize asylum seekers as essential travelers and allow them to come to Canada.
Former Liberal justice minster Irwin Cotler, who is supporting these calls to action, described China as now the greatest threat to the international legal order.