China hits back at criticism of its detention of Canadians

BEIJING (AP) – China minced no words yesterday as it rejected an accusation by Canada’s foreign minister that its detentions of Canadians pose a threat to all countries.

“I think your foreign minister may be in a hurry, and can’t help speaking without thinking,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in response to a question from a Canadian journalist. “What threat has China posed to Canada?”

She said Canada instead poses a threat to Chinese by detaining a Chinese citizen for “no reason”. She was referring to the arrest of Chinese telecoms executive Meng Wanzhou in Canada at the request of the United States.

“It is understandable that Canada is a little worried, but we hope it will avoid speaking freely without thinking because its reputation and image would be badly damaged by such behaviours,” Hua said. “And such remarks cannot help settle the issue, either.”

Meng’s arrest while she was transiting Vancouver airport on December 1 created a diplomatic rift that has continued to grow. Meng is the Chief Financial Officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei and the daughter of its founder. She is wanted by the US in relation to an investigation into Iran sanctions violations.

A Chinese paramilitary policeman rides past the Canadian embassy in Beijing, China. – AP

China detained two Canadians shortly after her arrest in what Western analysts see as an attempt to pressure Canada to release her.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said earlier this week that China’s “arbitrary detentions of Canadians … represent a way of behaving which is a threat to all countries.”

China also sentenced another Canadian, Robert Schellenberg, to death last Monday in a sudden retrial of his drug-smuggling case.

The US State Department called the death sentence “politically motivated”. A statement from deputy spokesman Robert Palladino on Wednesday said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Freeland spoke on Tuesday and “expressed their concerns about the arbitrary detentions and politically motivated sentencing of Canadian nationals”.

Canada has embarked on a campaign with allies to win the release of ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor, who were detained 10 days after Meng’s arrest. They were arrested on vague allegations of “engaging in activities that endanger the national security” of China.

Freeland said the detained Canadians will be at the top of her agenda when she visits Davos for the World Economic Forum next week.