A series of diplomatic spats over the weekend have renewed attention towards Beijing’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy. Disputes included threats by the Chinese Foreign Ministry towards the Canadian and U.S. governments over Hong Kong and the prosecution of military-affiliated scholars, as well as a fistfight between Chinese and Taiwanese representatives at a diplomatic reception in Fiji.
On Friday, China’s ambassador to Canada was quoted seemingly threatening the Canadian government over its recent move to grant asylum to a Hong Kong couple who were active during the pro-democracy demonstrations last year. The Guardian’s Helen Davidson reported that the ambassador alluded to potential retaliation against Canadians in Hong Kong, if Ottawa continued to offer asylum to protestors from the territory:
“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,” Cong [Peiwu] said.
“If the Canadian side really cares about the stability and prosperity in Hong Kong, and really cares about the good health and safety of those 300,000 Canadian passport holders in Hong Kong, and a large number of Canadian companies operating in Hong Kong, you should support those efforts to fight violent crimes.”
When asked if his words were a threat, Cong reportedly replied: “That is your interpretation.” [Source]
Canadian government officials hit back against the ambassador’s remarks. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau decried China’s diplomacy as “coercive,” while Canadian foreign affairs minister François-Philippe Champagne called the comments “totally unacceptable and disturbing.”
Warnings against granting immigration protections to Hong Kong protesters went unheeded in other countries. On Monday, it was reported that Germany had granted refugee status to a Hong Kong pro-democracy activist who was facing a rioting charge in Hong Kong.
The Chinese ambassador’s remarks were not the only threats by Chinese diplomats revealed over the weekend. On Saturday, The Wall Street Journal’s Kate O’Keefe and Aruna Viswanatha reported that Chinese government has been warning the U.S. government that it may detain Americans in China in retaliation against the Justice Department’s prosecution of Chinese scholars with affiliations to the PLA:
The Chinese officials have issued the warnings to U.S. government representatives repeatedly and through multiple channels, the people said, including through the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
The Chinese message, the people said, has been blunt: The U.S. should drop prosecutions of the Chinese scholars in American courts, or Americans in China might find themselves in violation of Chinese law.
China started issuing the warning this summer after the U.S. began arresting a series of Chinese scientists, who were visiting American universities to conduct research, and charged them with concealing from U.S. immigration authorities their active duty statuses with the People’s Liberation Army, the people said. [Source]
For the New York Times, Edward Wong reported that Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian condemned the prosecutions of Chinese scholars while denying the government’s role in making threats to their American counterparts:
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, accused the United States on Monday of “outright political repression” of Chinese scholars when asked at a news conference in Beijing about reports of detention threats made by Chinese officials.
“The U.S. claim that foreign nationals in China are under threat of arbitrary detention is playing the victim and confusing black and white,” he said. [Source]
Wong reported that in response to the warnings, the State Department reiterated travel warnings to U.S. citizens in China.
Finally, a violent altercation between diplomats on Sunday marked the latest clash between China and Taiwan. For the New York Times, Javier C. Hernandez reported that a fight erupted after Chinese diplomats gatecrashed a beachside event hosted by Taiwanese officials:
China has led a concerted effort in recent years to undercut Taiwan’s influence on the global stage, including in the Pacific. As part of that campaign, Beijing has poached several allies of Taiwan in the region, despite objections from the United States and other governments.
Those tensions spilled over at the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva on Oct. 8, when Taiwan hosted a reception to celebrate its national day before an audience of Fijian officials, scholars and nonprofit workers. (Fiji does not have official relations with Taipei.)
According to Taiwan’s foreign ministry, a pair of Chinese diplomats showed up at the reception uninvited and sought to photograph guests. Beijing has deployed such tactics — turning up at events, taking photographs of people — in recent years to intimidate its rivals and those who support them.
When Taiwanese officials tried to block the Chinese diplomats, the visitors turned violent, according to the ministry. They beat a Taiwanese official so severely that the official was hospitalized, the ministry said. [Source]
At the center of the clash: a cake. During a briefing on Monday, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian blamed the altercation on a cake displayed by the Taiwanese delegation, which was decorated in the pattern of the Taiwan flag. Zhao called the cake’s pattern a “false flag” that violated the one-China principle, and said that the Taiwanese representatives had “acted provocatively.”
I love cake with Taiwan flag.
Actually today is my birthday, I will order one just like this 👇 👇👇 pic.twitter.com/BP3lfxDlZV
— Way to Freedom HK (@waytofreedomhk) October 19, 2020
More details about the incident in Fiji: according to officials from @MOFA_Taiwan, Fiji’s Foreign Ministry reportedly said since the incident involves #China, Fiji and #Taiwan, which is complicated, so they hope to handle it “lightly.” https://t.co/Sp13mahsq2 https://t.co/jp7PqcH8sG
— William Yang (@WilliamYang120) October 19, 2020