China shot back at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday in expressing “strong dissatisfaction” with his criticism of a death sentence handed down to an alleged Canadian drug smuggler, while also cautioning its citizens about travelling to Canada.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Tuesday that 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.”
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.” It added that Chinese people should approach travel to Canada with caution.
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.
The tit-for-tat measures come after a court in northeastern China announced the death sentence for Robert Lloyd Schellenberg on Monday, overturning a 15-year prison term issued following his trial in 2016 on charges of being an accessory to drug smuggling.
Trudeau said 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.
Canada’s federal government intercedes on behalf of any Canadian facing execution abroad, Trudeau said in Ottawa.
“This is very much a concern to see that China is acting arbitrarily and applying the death penalty to a Canadian,” he said, adding the government “will continue to talk to our allies and to China about this.”
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 Canadians Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, and entrepreneur Michael Spavor on allegations they were undermining national security.
And rights organizations said it raises 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.
“All I can really say at this moment is, it is our worst case fear confirmed. Our thoughts are with Robert at this time,” she said in an email to The Canadian Press. “It is rather unimaginable what he must be feeling and thinking. It is a horrific, unfortunate, heartbreaking situation.”
Canada updated its travel advice on Monday for citizens visiting China, the first change since before tensions between the countries increased last month.
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.
Schellenberg’s lawyer, Zhang Dongshuo, said his client has 10 days to contest the latest sentence.