China’s ambassador to Canada warned the Canadian government on Thursday to stop recruiting international support in its feud with China and threatened retaliation if Ottawa bans Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei for security reasons.
Ambassador Lu Shaye said at a press event at the embassy in Ottawa that last month’s arrest of Huawei Technologies executive Sabrina Meng Wanzhou was an act of “back-stabbing” by a friend and he warned of repercussions if Canada bars the firm from its new 5G network.
He said it would be a bad idea for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland to use next week’s World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, to press for support against China.
Freeland has said the detention of two Canadians as part of that fight will be at the top of her agenda in Davos and didn’t back down from that after hearing about the ambassador’s remark.
The arrest of Meng while she was travelling through the Vancouver airport on December 1 created a growing diplomatic rift. Meng is the chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei and the daughter of its founder. The US wants her extradited to face charges that she committed fraud by misleading banks about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran.
China detained two Canadians, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor, shortly after her arrest in an apparent attempt to pressure Canada to release her.
Last week, Lu accused Canada of “white supremacy” in calling for the release of the two Canadians.
After Lu’s interview, Freeland said: “The detention of Ms Meng is a matter of rule of law. It is matter of Canada acting according to its international treaty obligations. The detention of Ms Meng is not in any way a political judgment by the government of Canada. It is not in any way a statement of our relationship with China.”
Canada has embarked on a campaign with allies to win the release of Kovrig and Spavor, who were detained 10 days after Meng’s arrest. They are being held on allegations of “engaging in activities that endanger the national security” of China.
“This is an issue that not only concerns Canada but a much broader international community,” Freeland said. “There is a large and growing group of allies who share Canada’s concerns about the rule of law.”
China also sentenced another Canadian, Robert Schellenberg, to death Monday in a sudden retrial of his drug-smuggling case.
John McCallum, the Canadian ambassador to China, said Canada has done a great job getting allies to support Canada’s position. But he added, “I really think that’s just the beginning.”
Earlier Thursday, China rejected a statement by Freeland that the detention of the Canadians poses a threat to all countries.
“I think your foreign minister may be in a hurry, and can’t help speaking without thinking,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in sarcastic response to a question from a Canadian journalist on what threat China poses to Canada.
Many countries have expressed support for Canada. The US State Department called the death sentence “politically motivated.”
On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office said Trudeau spoke to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong about the dispute, and the Spanish government issued a statement expressing concern about the death sentence against Schellenberg and the arrests of Kovrig and Spavor.
Lu said economic relations between China and Canada can be repaired and the current impasse could be resolved through negotiations. He defended the arrests of the two Canadians and criticised Canada’s arrest of Meng, saying she didn’t break any Canadian laws.
Canada is studying whether to use Huawei for 5G. There are accusations that Huawei, the world’s biggest maker of telecom network gear, is controlled by China’s ruling Communist Party or is required to facilitate Chinese spying. The United States, Australia, Japan and some other governments have imposed curbs on use of its technology over such concerns.
Huawei is facing heightened scrutiny as phone carriers prepare to roll out fifth-generation technology in which the company is a leading competitor.
5G is designed to support a vast expansion of networks to serve medical devices, self-driving cars and other technology. That increases the cost of potential security failures and has prompted governments increasingly to treat telecoms communications networks as strategic assets.
Huawei’s image suffered a new blow last week when Polish authorities announced that one of its Chinese employees was arrested on spying charges. Huawei announced it fired the employee and said the allegations had nothing to do with the company.