The author of the Art of War, Sun Tzu, once wrote: "If your opponent is of choleric temper, irritate him."
Regardless of whether Justin Trudeau is familiar with the ancient Chinese general and military tactician, the prime minister has likely gotten under the skin of the Xi Jinping government with his latest political move.
In the midst of a major diplomatic dispute with China, the federal Liberals have nominated a candidate who was once a fierce critic of the Communist regime.
This weekend, Richard T. Lee was appointed to run in the Burnaby South by-election against NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Conservative candidate Jay Shin, and People's Party of Canada candidate Laura Lynn Tyler Thompson.
Lee replaces Karen Wang, who resigned her candidacy following a controversy over a social-media post on the Chinese-language site WeChat.
The federal Liberals bypassed the second-place finisher in the nomination race, scientific researcher Cyrus Eduljee.
The by-election will be held on February 25.
Lee condemned Tiananmen Square massacre
In the 1980s after obtaining master's degree in mathematics at UBC, the Guangdong-born Lee was a programmer analyst at TRIUMF, a particle-research facility on the university's Point Grey campus.
He was an outspoken supporter of thousands of peaceful pro-democracy student activists who gathered in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in the spring of 1989. Their protest was symbolized by a giant Goddess of Democracy statue.
After Chinese troops converged on this area and shot 3,000 to 10,000 of the demonstrators on June 3 and 4, 1989, Lee frequently criticized the actions of the Chinese government.
At the time, Lee was chairperson of the Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement. He also played an instrumental role in a replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue being placed at UBC near the Student Union Building.
In 1992, Lee was expelled from China when he was there with a parliamentary delegation led by then NDP MP Svend Robinson.
According to Svend Robinson: A Life in Politics, by Graeme Truelove, the group met with government representatives. But Robinson wanted to also meet with dissidents, so he and two other MPs—Beryl Gaffney and Geoff Scott—hailed a taxi and switched cars a few times so they could meet the mother of a man who had been imprisoned for being involved in the Tiananmen Square protests.
The following day, according to Truelove's book, a dozen Chinese police officers surrounded their bus.
Some boarded the vehicle, and hauled the MPs into a police station. They were later taken to the airport and forced to leave China.
"It was a massive miscalculation by the Chinese government, and it gave us an opportunity to speak about the human rights abuses in China," Robinson told Truelove.
Since then, Lee has been very quiet about China's human-rights abuses.
His nomination this weekend as a Liberal candidate came after the government of China basically kidnapped two Canadians—Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. China has claimed that they are being investigated for violating Chinese state security, but they haven't been formally charged.
Another Canadian, former Abbotsford resident Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, was sentenced to death in the northern Chinese city of Dalian after being convicted of drug smuggling.
All of this has occurred since Canadian authorities arrested Huawei Technologies chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou on a provisional warrant issued by U.S. authorities. Meng also hasn't been charged, though an information sheet submitted by U.S. authorities purports that she lied to banking officials about a company allegedly doing business illegally with Iran.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson has mocked Trudeau for claiming that Beijing violated diplomatic immunity by arresting Kovrig. He was on leave from his position at Global Affairs Canada when he was working in China with the International Crisis Group.
"As for the issue of immunity, I would suggest [the] relevant person in Canada read and study the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and international law first before making any comment, instead of making himself a laughingstock with specious statements," Hua Chunying said last week.
Lee was never appointed to B.C. cabinet
In 2001, Lee was elected as the B.C. Liberal MLA for Burnaby North, holding the seat for 16 years until he was defeated in 2017.
In that period, he was not brought into to cabinet. This was never publicly attributed to his outspoken criticism of China in his younger years.
However, the B.C. Liberal government repeatedly tried to cultivate warm relations with Beijing during his tenure. And appointing Lee to cabinet would have undoubtedly rankled officials at the Chinese consulate on Granville Street.
The provincial government's romance with China blossomed when former premier Christy Clark appointed Teresa Wat as minister of international trade and minister responsible for the Asia Pacific strategy and multiculturalism.
After the 2013 election, Clark named Lee as parliamentary secretary for the Asia Pacific strategy but shuffled him out of that position only seven months later.
In December 2013 he became parliamentary secretary for traditional Chinese medicine, a post he held for nearly two years.
He later served as deputy speaker of the legislature.
“Richard Lee has a proven commitment to public service, and he has dedicated his career to making life better for Burnaby families,” Liberal Party of Canada president Suzanne Cowan said in a news release announcing Lee's appointment to run in Burnaby South. “We are honoured to welcome Richard to Team Trudeau as our Liberal candidate in this important by-election, and after sixteen years of service in the B.C. legislature, I know he will be a strong and trusted voice for Burnaby South in Parliament.”
The Liberal announcement made no mention of Lee's vociferous criticism of China in the past.
Perhaps party officials were keeping in mind the following quote from Sun Tzu: "Do not engage an enemy more powerful than you. And if it is unavoidable and you do have to engage, then make sure you engage it on your terms, not on the enemy's terms."