On June 8, just four days after Beijing’s Tiananmen Square massacre, students protesting outside the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa suddenly saw an unidentified person throw an envelope from a second-floor window. Tucked inside was a three-line note, written in Chinese on beige onionskin paper. It read in part: “Let us condemn the murders of our patriotic youth.” That was the first sign that some embassy personnel sympathized with the prodemocracy movement. Last week brought more dramatic evidence: in an impromptu news conference outside the House of Commons, External Affairs Minister Joe Clark confirmed reports that a number of Chinese diplomatic personnel were in the process of defecting to Canada. But External officials declined to provide the names or exact number of defectors, maintaining that they did not want to jeopardize the diplomats’ relatives in China. “I think you will understand,” Clark said, “that it is in nobody’s interest to get
into details at this moment.”
However, one Ottawa official said that five Chinese Embassy employees had asked for refugee status in Canada. And Frank Eng, president of the Ottawa chapter of the Chinese Canadian National Council, told Mac1 lean ’s that his sources claim that as many as nine people within the Ottawa embassy had requested refugee status, along with another two from the Chinese consulate in Vancouver. “We’re talking about diplomatic defections, -
not administrative people,” Eng said. According to some press reports, the son of one of the defectors had been killed in the Tiananmen massacre.
Ottawa officials have said that they would
deal sympathetically with any Chinese defectors. In all, China has 35 diplomatic employees in Ottawa, 10 in Vancouver and 14 at the Toronto consulate. And Rupert Yeung, executive director of the Chinese Community Service Centre in Ottawa, noted, “The local Chinese community has been expecting someone to defect—the only surprise was that it took so long.” Most of the diplomats, Yeung added, “are in their 40s or older, maybe with children in university in China. Their decision to defect has very serious implications for their families.”
Last week the Canadian government also investigated reports that some personnel at the Chinese Embassy had been harassing Chinese citizens in Canada and ChineseCanadians sympathetic to the democracy drive. But Clark said that on June 15, when he called in the Chinese ambassador, Zhang Wenpu, to protest repression in China, Zhang denied the reports. Still, Sino-Canadian relations—severely strained by the Chinese army’s ironfisted crackdown—seemed certain to worsen as details of the diplomatic defections continue to emerge.
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