OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is trying to shore up international support in the diplomatic feud with China over Canadian detainees, including the pending death sentence to an alleged drug smuggler from British Columbia.
Trudeau spoke with the leaders of Argentina and New Zealand Monday as part of Canada’s ongoing efforts to build support for Canada in its dispute with China.
Trudeau and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern discussed “the detention and legal treatment of Canadian citizens in China and the need for all countries to respect judicial procedure and rule of law,” said a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office.
The prime minister and Argentinian President Mauricio Macri “discussed the arbitrary detention of two Canadians in China and the importance of safeguarding international norms, including judicial independence and respect for the rule of law. They also discussed China’s application of the death penalty to a Canadian citizen,” said his office.
Canada has received support from other allies including the United States, the European Union, France, Britain, Germany and Australia in its ongoing efforts to win the release of two Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were arrested last month.
The international outreach has sparked Chinese ire, including a scathing attack from Beijing’s envoy in Ottawa that it smacks of “Western egotism and white supremacy.”
China shot back at Trudeau on Tuesday in expressing “strong dissatisfaction” with his criticism of a death sentence handed down this week to a previously arrested third Canadian, an alleged drug smuggler.
Robert Lloyd Schellenberg was sentenced in 2016 to a 15-year prison term but on Monday, after a new trial, he was sentenced to death.
Trudeau said Monday he was very concerned to see China “acting arbitrarily” by applying the death penalty and that Canada will do all it can to intervene on Schellenberg’s behalf.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Tuesday Trudeau should “respect the rule of law, respect China’s judicial sovereignty, correct mistakes and stop making irresponsible remarks.”
Hua told reporters at a daily briefing in Beijing that China expresses “our strong dissatisfaction with this” and is cautioning its citizens about travelling to Canada.
The foreign ministry’s consular affairs office also published a notice Tuesday saying that Canada has recently “arbitrarily detained” a Chinese national — a reference to Canada’s arrest of Chinese telecommunications executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of the United States.
It urged Chinese citizens to consider their personal circumstances and “fully assess the risks of going to Canada for tourism.”
The notice mirrored Canada’s revision of its own travel advisory Monday that warned of the “risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws” in China.
Global Affairs says on its website that Canadians are still advised to “exercise a high degree of caution” when visiting China — which is unchanged — but it now explains the warning is “due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws.” It also now warns of the death penalty, as well as penalties for drug-related offences.
Canada and China made a concerted effort to boost tourism last year to take economic advantage of the growing middle class in the People’s Republic. The initiative appeared to bear some fruit with travel in the first 10 months of 2018 exceeding the number of Chinese tourists during the same period in 2017.
Statistics Canada figures show more than 663,000 Chinese travellers visited Canada between January and October, compared with more than 620,000 between January and October 2017.
Hua’s comments add to increasingly strained relations between the two countries since Canada detained Meng on Dec. 1, followed soon after by China’s detention of Kovrig, a former diplomat and Spavor, an entrepreneur, on allegations they were undermining national security.
Rights organizations said Tuesday’s remarks by the Chinese foreign ministry raise serious questions about possible political interference in China.
The Chinese media began publicizing Schellenberg’s case after Canada detained Meng, who faces extradition to the U.S. on fraud charges.
Schellenberg’s aunt, Lauri Nelson-Jones, said the family is awaiting any news regarding an appeal.
Schellenberg’s lawyer, Zhang Dongshuo, said his client has 10 days to contest the latest sentence.
-With files from The Associated Press
The Canadian Press