U.S. Calls Canadian’s Death Sentence in China ‘Politically Motivated’

Greg Quinn

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. State Department said a death sentence issued to a Canadian this week in China was a political decision, with Justin Trudeau’s top diplomat calling the detention of two other men a threat to all nations.

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, speaking to reporters near Montreal, said Canada is in a “difficult moment” after the arrest of a top Huawei Technologies Co. executive last month in Vancouver on a U.S. extradition request. Nine days after that, a Canadian diplomat and a businessman were seized separately by state security officers in China.

“Our government has been energetically reaching out to our allies and explaining that the arbitrary detentions of Canadians aren’t just about Canada,” Freeland said Wednesday. “They represent a way of behaving which is a threat to all countries.’’

On Tuesday, she spoke about the escalating tensions with her U.S. counterpart, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. His office backed Canada’s effort to increase international pressure on China in a summary of the call issued Wednesday morning.

Freeland and Pompeo shared their concerns over the detentions and the “politically motivated sentencing of Canadian nationals,” a State Department spokesman said in the statement. They also reiterated their “commitment to Canada’s conduct of a fair, unbiased, and transparent legal proceeding” in response to the American request to extradite Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and daughter of the Chinese telecom giant’s founder.

Death Penalty

Meng is free on bail pending her next court hearing. But Michael Kovrig, who was on leave from his foreign service posting in Hong Kong, and Michael Spavor, an entrepreneur who ran tours into North Korea, remain in Chinese custody. The third Canadian, Robert Schellenberg, had an earlier 15-year sentence on drug smuggling charges increased to execution after a Chinese court ruled on his appeal Monday.

“My first priority by far is to do everything in my capacity to secure the release of the two Michaels as quickly as possible, and to help to save the life of Mr. Schellenberg,” John McCallum, Canada’s ambassador to China, told reporters Wednesday evening before a meeting with Trudeau’s cabinet in Sherbrooke, Quebec.

“I have visited all three of them, I have spoken to all of their families, I will be speaking tomorrow to Mr. Schellenberg’s father, so I am determined to do what I can -- and there are various things we are doing -- to secure their release and his life. Our work is consumed every day by these priorities.”

Freeland and Trudeau have also sought support from President Donald Trump and leaders of other nations including Germany, Argentina and New Zealand. Those efforts have drawn fresh rebukes from Chinese officials.

The foreign minister is also talking with Canadian executives with operations in China about how to handle new tensions around international travel. China earlier this week matched a Canadian travel warning about the risk of arbitrary law enforcement.

Another sign of frayed relations came Wednesday with the Globe and Mail newspaper reporting that Canada has protested China’s questioning of Kovrig over his past diplomatic work in that country. Canada brought in Chinese Ambassador Lu Shaye to discuss the case, the newspaper said, citing unnamed officials.

Trudeau accused China last week of violating the principles of diplomatic immunity, and Freeland mentioned international support for that idea too. “Some of the statements from our partners have said that it’s very important that the Vienna Convention be upheld,’’ she said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying has said repeatedly the immunity claim makes Canada a “laughing stock’’ because Kovrig entered the country on a business visa.

(Updates with Canadian ambassador’s comments in seveth, eighth paragraphs.)

--With assistance from Kasia Klimasinska and Josh Wingrove.

To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Quinn in Ottawa at gquinn1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Theophilos Argitis at targitis@bloomberg.net, Stephen Wicary, Chris Fournier

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