Mélanie Joly throws down a dangerous gauntlet

PV Editorial 

“Persona non grata.” Person not welcome.

After what seems like a lifetime of jingoistic and opportunistic finger pointing from both the right and “left” wings in the House of Commons, the Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly declared on May 8 that Ottawa was expelling Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei.

The government justifies its decision, which is the first expulsion of a Chinese in decades, by claiming that Zhao was part of alleged efforts by the Chinese government to “intimidate” Conservative MP Gordon Chong.

Of course, we don’t know the evidence because it’s in a secret CSIS report. Pretty convenient for a government and state security apparatus that expects us to believe what they say, just because they say it.

But there are some things we know, and they should cause us to question both the wisdom and implications of Joly’s decision.

First, the entire affair began when Chong sponsored a motion in the House, declaring China’s treatment of the Uyghurs to be a genocide. Armed with no real evidence (because there isn’t any), Chong and everyone else in Parliament overlooked the facts and instead relied on disinformation from discredited third parties.

So, publicly declaring that China was committing crimes against humanity is not considered interference, but China complaining about the politician who sponsored the motion is? Seems like a classic double standard.

And on the question of double standards, what about the Canadian government’s decision to kidnap Meng Wanzhou and hold her prisoner so that the United States could continue its geopolitical spat with the Chinese government? Whatever Zhao Wei is accused of, it definitely didn’t involve slapping an ankle bracelet on Gordon Chong and keeping him under house arrest in a foreign country for three years.

Meng’s arrest sent a chill through much of the Asian community in Canada, whose experiences of racism and xenophobia would escalate immediately thereafter, and which would soar during the COVID-19 pandemic. Joly’s announcement will have a similar effect. The image of a Chinese person being publicly labelled “person not welcome” as a way to safeguard “Canadian democracy” is a haunting one that will surely be noted by millions of Asian Canadians.

Anti-Chinese hate is a disgusting, but enormously powerful component of the current Cold War campaign which the US and its Western allies including Canada are waging against China. Like other oppressive outlooks, it is an insidious ideology that is used to harass, weaken and divide people. Just ask Toronto mayoral candidate Olivia Chow, who was photographed on the same day Zhao was expelled, with a group of people whom the local media labelled “Chinese supporters.”

Ottawa’s knee-jerk response doesn’t just risk making life difficult for Asian Canadians. Millions of working people depend on Canada-China trade relations for their jobs and incomes, and these will be jeopardized if a diplomatic spat with the country’s second-largest trading partner spills over into the economic arena. That was certainly the case with the Meng Wanzhou debacle, which cost canola farmers in western Canada about $2 billion in lost trade with China.

This seems like a lot to risk, particularly at a time when people across the country are still struggling to recover from the pandemic recession and are currently staring down the barrel of a soaring cost of living.

Joly claims that her decision was made “after careful consideration of all factors.” After a less ideologically driven and even more careful consideration, it seems more like a reckless move that has serious implications for peace, the economy and the safety of Asian Canadians.

She’s thrown down a dangerous gauntlet – we need to make her pick it back up.

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