China has expressed “strong dissatisfaction” with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over his criticism of a death sentence given to an alleged Canadian drug smuggler at a retrial.
Mr Trudeau should “respect the rule of law, respect China’s judicial sovereignty, correct mistakes and stop making irresponsible remarks”, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
Ms Hua told reporters at a daily briefing that China expresses “our strong dissatisfaction with this”.
Her comments are the latest sign of a sharply chilly turn in China-Canada relations since Canada detained Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, on December 1 at the request of the United States.
The US wants Meng extradited to face charges that she committed fraud by misleading banks about the company’s business dealings in Iran.
The Liaoning provincial court in northeastern China announced the death sentence for Robert Lloyd Schellenberg on Monday.
Schellenberg was detained more than four years ago, went on trial in 2016 and was initially sentenced to 15 years in prison in November.
The Chinese media began re-publicising Schellenberg’s case after Meng’s detention. Within weeks, an appeals court suddenly reversed that decision, saying the sentence was too lenient, and scheduled Monday’s retrial with just four days’ notice.
The court gave no indication that the death penalty could be commuted, but observers said Schellenberg’s fate is likely to be drawn into diplomatic negotiations over China’s demand for Meng’s release.
Mr Trudeau suggested on Monday that China was using its judicial system to pressure Canada over the arrest of Meng, who is also the daughter of Huawei’s founder.
“All countries around the world” should be concerned that Beijing is acting arbitrarily with its justice system, Mr Trudeau said.
“It is of extreme concern to us as a government, as it should be to all our international friends and allies, that China has chosen to begin to arbitrarily apply a death penalty,” Mr Trudeau said.
Canada later updated its travel advice for China, urging Canadians to “exercise a high degree of caution due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws”.
Ms Hua dismissed such concerns, saying the 222 kilograms of methamphetamine that Schellenberg was accused of smuggling merited the harsh penalty.
“When facing such a serious drug smuggling crime, I think any responsible government that takes resolute measures to deal with the case just reflects the responsible attitude and strong determination of the government in protecting the lives and safety of its people,” she said.
A Chinese man convicted of involvement in the same operation was earlier given a suspended death sentence.
Describing the case as “highly politicised,” the human rights group Amnesty International urged that Schellenberg’s sentence be revoked.
“The sudden retrial and apparent rush to judgment has highlighted the numerous flaws in China’s judicial system,” China researcher William Nee said in a statement.