The most-visible foreign diplomat in B.C. has left her post after almost five years.
People’s Republic of China Consul-General Tong Xiaoling bid farewell on July 28 to Vancouver, where she was the 13th person to hold the post, in a letter published in Chinese on the consulate’s Chinese language website.
“Although the international situation is ever-changing, and the relationship between the two countries has been ups and downs, it cannot change the historical trend of peaceful cooperation, nor the realistic logic of local exchanges,” Tong wrote in the letter, translated to English. “I wish the friendly cooperation between the consular district and China will continue to achieve fruitful results.”
Tong also thanked the “vast number of overseas Chinese for building bridges for China-Canada friendship and contributing to the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
Beijing-born Tong, 60, arrived in Vancouver in late November 2017. She had previously been China’s ambassador to Brunei and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and deputy commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong. The consulate media office has not responded to questions about Tong’s replacement or her next career move.
“The fact that her posting extended for an unusually long period of five years, suggests that the Chinese Communist Party felt that her job performance was furthering China's agenda in the Vancouver area very well,” said Charles Burton, a former diplomat in Canada’s Beijing embassy and a senior fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute think-tank.
Just over a year after Tong’s arrival, Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou was arrested at Vancouver International Airport on a warrant alleging fraud in the United States. That began a period of almost three years in which Vancouver and the Chinese consulate were in the foreground or background of international and domestic geopolitical intrigue and upheaval.
Tong often publicly demanded Meng’s release and criticized the Canadian government, which was bound by the terms of Canada’s extradition treaty with the U.S. She sometimes observed extradition hearings in court and delivered gifts to Meng’s residences, while Chinese state-friendly media outlets watched.
In early 2020, when the coronavirus broke out in Wuhan, Tong demanded the Province newspaper apologize for using the words “China virus” in a headline. Meanwhile, the consulate became involved in exporting bulk shipments of personal protective equipment to China and outfitting Chinese students with masks and gloves at Lower Mainland universities. After Canadian supplies were exhausted, Tong helped arrange a donation to B.C. hospitals from sister province Guangdong.
Tong was often photographed with municipal, provincial and federal politicians who sought to maintain ties with China, despite the kidnapping of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, an international diplomatic boycott of the Beijing 2022 Olympics and Xi Jinping’s alliance with Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Tong’s tenure also included coordinating local celebrations for the 70th anniversary of dictator Mao Zedong’s founding of modern China in 2019, the centennial of the CCP in 2021, and Beijing 2022. The consulate became a lightning rod for protests by groups demanding China release the Two Michaels, free Uyghur Muslims interned in Xinjiang and stop the crackdown on human rights in Hong Kong. Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West led a boycott of the Tong-hosted cocktail party at the 2019 Union of B.C. Municipalities convention. The UBCM voted to ban foreign-government lobbying events at future conventions.
Last November, Tong lashed out at Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart for a proposed “friendship city” arrangement with Taiwan’s third-largest city, Kaohsiung. Earlier in 2021, Stewart had indefinitely cancelled all meetings with Chinese government officials after former colleague and Conservative MP Michael Chong was among the Canadians that China sanctioned in retaliation for sanctions aimed at condemning the Uyghur genocide.
At the end of May, Canadian Security Intelligence Service agents warned Stewart that the upcoming civic election could be a target for Chinese government meddling.
Despite the controversies, Burton said Tong was “exceptionally effective” in furthering the political objectives of China’s United Front Work Department (UFWD) foreign influence program. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s watershed 2020 report called UFWD the “exportation of the CCP’s political system” that undermines social cohesion, exacerbates racial tension, influences politics, harms media integrity, facilitates espionage, and increases unsupervised technology transfer.
“Her departure is probably something that we would welcome as this kind of United Front work engagement of people, particularly persons of Chinese origin, who have Canadian citizenship, is not really consistent with normal diplomatic functions,” Burton said. “So one hopes that we will see someone coming into the job who will be more oriented towards diplomatic activities consistent with their mandate as as a consul general, like other consul generals in Vancouver, and not one who has such an explicitly political role in seeking to divert the loyalty of Canadians towards a foreign country, that being China.”
Burton wondered if Tong’s next post will be diplomatic or somewhere else in the Communist Party regime. “It’d be interesting to watch where her career goes from here,” he said.
The consulate’s Chinese website also includes a photograph of NDP Energy Minister Bruce Ralston presenting Tong with a B.C. government plaque on the deck outside the Canada Place cabinet office.
Ralston is the cabinet liaison to B.C.’s foreign diplomatic corps. He did not publish a version of that photo to his Twitter account, as he normally does when he meets, greets or says goodbye to a diplomat.