TORONTO - The U.S. State Department said Wednesday China’s death sentence on a Canadian man is “politically motivated.”
The statement from U.S. deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke Tuesday and “expressed their concerns about the arbitrary detentions and politically motivated sentencing of Canadian nationals.”
A Chinese court resentenced Robert Schellenberg to death in a sudden retrial of a drug-smuggling case on Monday.
Freeland and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have been talking to world leaders about Schellenberg’s case and the cases of two Canadians arrested in China in apparent retaliation for the arrest of Chinese Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.
Canada arrested the daughter of Huawei’s founder at the request of the U.S., which wants her extradited to face charges that she misled banks about the company’s business dealings in Iran. Palladino said the Meng case also came up.
“They noted their continued commitment to Canada’s conduct of a fair, unbiased, and transparent legal proceeding,” the statement said.
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 the Meng arrest on vague allegations of “engaging in activities that endanger the national security” of China.
“Led by the prime minister, our government has been energetically reaching out to our allies and explaining that the arbitrary detentions of Canadians are not just about Canada — they represent a way of behaving which is a threat to all countries,” Freeland
Freeland said the detained Canadians will be at the top of her agenda when she visits Davos for the World Economic Forum next week.
Earlier Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Beijing “isn’t worried at all” about facing opposition from the international community, according to an English transcript of her remarks that was published on a Chinese government website.
“Actually, you can count by the fingers of your hand the few allies of Canada that chose to side with it on this issue,” Hua said.
“For serious crimes posing great harm to the society like drug smuggling, I believe it is the international consensus that such crimes shall be strictly handled and punished,” she added.
Asked about Hua’s comments, Freeland said, “I would just point to the fact that the EU alone, which has issued a statement, is a union of 28 countries.”
The UK, Australia and other countries have also issued statements in support. The White House called the detentions “unlawful” in a statement after Trudeau called U.S. President Donald Trump last week about it. But Trump has not talked about the detained Canadians.
Bruce Heyman, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada, said the U.S. and other allies need to take a stronger public stance supporting Canada.
“A statement is a statement but it only has strength in value if there are consequences for behavior,” Heyman said. “A threat to Canadians is a threat to the United States. That’s what’s missing here. That’s what you do with allies and your best friend. Canada has always been there for the United States in a time of need.”
Heyman said a lack of American leadership from the Trump administration has empowered countries like China and Canada is suffering the consequences.
“We are seeing behaviors around the world by countries who feel that they have a license to do things because the U.S. is behaving entirely differently,” he said. “We should be there protecting our allies.”