China hits back after Justin Trudeau condemns Canadian's death sentence

Cheryl Sanders
January 16, 2019

In a move observers see as retaliation for the Huawei case, Chinese authorities have detained two other Canadian citizens separately - former diplomat Michael Kovrig and business consultant Michael Spavor - since December on suspicion of endangering national security.

Later that month, the High People's Court of Liaoning Province ordered a retrial regarding the charges against another Canadian national, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, who had been sentenced to 15 years in prison for drug smuggling in November by a lower court, after prosecutors called for him to receive a harsher punishment, citing "new evidence" showing that he was part of an global drug trafficking syndicate.

Hours later, in an apparent bid to ease the tension, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke of the "very important and long-standing ties" between the two nations.

The formal request for Robert Schellenberg was given to China's ambassador to Canada.

"I will say that it is of extreme concern to us as a government, as it should be to all our worldwide friends and allies, that China has chosen to begin to arbitrarily apply the death penalty, as in this case, facing a Canadian", Trudeau told reporters on Monday. It added that Chinese people should approach travel to Canada with caution.

The prime minister says he is "extremely concerned as should all countries around the world" that China is choosing to act arbitrarily with its justice system and with its choice not to respect longstanding practices regarding diplomatic immunity.

At a press conference the following day, China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying blasted Trudeau's remarks as "irresponsible", asking if he had read the relevant court documents.

Taking Canada to task for issuing an updated travel advisory warning citizens about the risk of arbitrary enforcement of laws in China, Ms Hua said Canada should instead remind its people to avoid drug smuggling.

Hua's comments are the latest sign of a sharply chilly turn in China-Canada relations since Canada detained a top Chinese telecommunications executive on December 1 at the request of the United States.

Freeland said she wanted to "emphasize" how glad Canada is that "a large and growing, group of our allies has stood with Canada".

According to Tourism Vancouver, China is the city's second biggest visitor market, accounting for 300,000 overnight trips in 2017.

The countries have been at odds since early December, when Canadian police arrested Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on a United States extradition request as part of an investigation into suspected violations of U.S. trade sanctions.

Trudeau had also received support from other allies, including the United States, the European Union, France, Germany, Britain and Australia.

Trudeau has continued to shore up worldwide support in the diplomatic feud with China over the Canadian detainees.

Meng's arrest is viewed in China as part of a United States attempt to contain Huawei, one of the world's biggest telecommunications companies. He said China has chosen to arbitrarily apply the death penalty.

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth said China was "playing hostage politics".

The Chinese media began publicizing Schellenberg's case after Canada detained Meng, who faces extradition to the USA on fraud charges. His lawyer, Zhang Dongshuo, said his client has 10 days to contest the latest sentence.

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