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Justin Trudeau Faces Crisis Over Chinese Political Interference in Canada

Newsweek 3/24/2023 James Bickerton
Han Dong in Ottawa, Ontario. 2020 © Finnfrancislong Han Dong in Ottawa, Ontario. 2020

A Canadian lawmaker has stepped down from Justin Trudeau's governing Liberal Party following allegations he lobbied Chinese diplomats to increase the period that two Canadian nationals were being held prisoner in China for partisan political gain.

Han Dong, who now sits as an independent having left the Liberal Party on Wednesday, has strongly denied the claims against him, and vowed to clear his name.

The incident is the latest in a series of rows over Chinese influence in advanced Western democracies, amid talk of a 'New Cold War' between Beijing and Washington.

Allegations against Dong first surfaced in Global News, which quoted anonymous security sources who claimed the Liberal member of parliament had asked Han Tao, China's Toronto consul-general, to delay the release of two Canadian nationals.

Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were seized by Chinese authorities in December 2018, and held for more than 1,000 days on suspicion of spying. Their detention immediately followed Canada's arrest of Meng Wanzhou, a Huawei senior executive, who was wanted in the U.S. on fraud charges.


The detention of Kovrig and Spavor was widely regarded as Beijing's retaliation for this arrest, with Wanzhou being freed and returned to China in September 2021, just one day after the two Canadians were released.

Global News alleges that Dong suggested the Chinese should delay the release of Kovrig and Spavor to a time less politically convenient for the opposition Conservative Party of Canada, which has pushed for a harder line in Ottawa's relations with Beijing.

Dong strongly denied the allegations against him in parliament, commenting: "Media reports today quoting unverified and anonymous sources have attacked my reputation and called into question my loyalty to Canada.

"Let me be clear, what has been reported is false. And I will defend myself against these absolutely untrue claims."

On Wednesday Trudeau's office said the prime minister had "only became aware" of the conversation between Dong and Tao "after Mr Dong told us, following recent media questions."

In a statement published on Thursday the Chinese consulate in Toronto dismissed as "utterly groundless" the suggestion that it had interfered in Canadian domestic politics.

The statement added: "It is the responsibility of consular posts to have extensive contacts and carry out friendly exchanges with local governments."

A spokesperson for Wang Wenbin, the Chinese minister of foreign affairs, also denied any malpractice from Beijing. He said: "China opposes interference in other countries' internal affairs. We have no interest in and will not interfere in Canada's internal affairs."

Trudeau, who described Dong in February as "an outstanding member of our team," is facing calls to launch a full public inquiry into Chinese interference.

Australia was also rocked by a political scandal over Chinese influence in 2016 over Labor Senator Sam Dastyari's links with Huang Xiangmo, a donor with connections to the Chinese Communist Party.

The following year he stepped down from parliament, commenting: "I've been guided by my Labor values, which tell me that I should leave if my ongoing presence detracts from the pursuit of Labor's mission. It is evident to me we are at that point, so I will spare the party any further distraction."

Newsweek has contacted the Chinese embassy in Canada for comment by email.

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