- CCTV/Reuters TV via REUTERS
- Canada has joined the US in raising its travel warnings for China, fearing a growing pattern of the arbitrary application of local laws to detain citizens from those countries.
- The move comes just hours after a Chinese court in Liaoning province sentenced Canadian citizen Robert Lloyd Schellenberg to death on rebooted drug-trafficking charges.
- Diplomatic relations between the US, Canada and China have been in sharp deterioration since the December arrest of a high-profile Huawei executive in Vancouver.
Canada on Monday night issued a travel advisory, raising the risk-level for citizens already on the ground, or planning to visit China.
Canada’s Global Affairs lifted its travel advisory out of a growing trail of examples of Chinese authorities arbitrarily enforcing local laws and detaining foreign citizens.
The move comes just hours after a Chinese court in Liaoning province sentenced Canadian citizen Robert Lloyd Schellenberg to death on the charge of attempting to smuggle more than 220 kilograms of methamphetamines.
According to Canada’s Globe and Mail correspondent Mark MacKinnon, this would be “the first Canadian or American ever executed,” by the People’s Republic of China. Schellenberg is expected to appeal the death sentence, his lawyer, Zhang Dongshuo, said according to Reuters.
With the Huawei dispute in the background, a Canadian has been sentenced to death in China. Would be the first Canadian or American ever executed by the People’s Republic https://t.co/sU8I0vH8r7
— Mark MacKinnon (@markmackinnon) January 14, 2019
The Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday that Canada and its allies were worried about China’s random use of the law as a diplomatic tool.
“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 (the) death penalty,” Trudeau said.
Following the court’s decision, Global Affairs Canada, which handles Canada’s diplomatic relations, consular services, and international trade, joined the US State Department which issued a travel advisory earlier this month urging Americans to “exercise increased caution” when traveling to China.
Global Affairs urged Canadians to exercise a high degree of caution.
— travel.gc.ca (@TravelGoC) January 14, 2019
Likewise, the US State Department’s elevated travel advisory was borne out of a similar concern that China may arbitrarily enforce opaque local laws.
The State Department advisory also warned that US-Chinese citizens or Americans of Chinese heritage were especially vulnerable to “additional scrutiny and harassment.”
The State Department warned that China could very well just slap US citizens with “exit bans,” which can keep “US citizens in China for years.”
Global Affairs says that around 200 Canadians are being held in China “for a variety of alleged infractions.” And while that number may have remained “relatively stable” over time, the deterioration in Canadian-US and Chinese relations since the arrest in Vancouver of Huawei executive Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, pretty much signals the old diplomatic rule book has been thrown out.
Meng, who is accused of fraud related to violating Iran sanctions, was released on bail but still faces extradition to the US.
Barely one week after Meng’s arrest at the behest of the US, two high-profile Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were detained separately, both accused of “endangering national security” – a phrase largely amounting to code from Beijing for espionage, according to the South China Morning Post.
China has not directly linked the cases, but those detentions have been widely interpreted as retaliation.
A good weather vane for the whims of modern Chinese diplomacy is the state media and proxy for nationalist invective, The Global Times.
Following Meng’s detention in Canada, the Hu Xujin – the paper’s celebrity editor – promised in this video post that “China will take revenge if Canada does not restore Meng Wanzhou’s freedom.”
As that video was being shot and uploaded, news of the detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor was breaking, the respected China watcher Jeremy Goldkorn says.
The Dalian Intermediate People’s Court
- Liu Debin/VCG via Getty Images
And certainly Beijing has gone out of its way to ensure that as many foreign eyes as possible get a good look at the the Canadian clapped in cuffs and sentenced to death in the coastal city of Dalian. A decision all the more remarkable because Schellenberg was already sentenced to 15 years in November, before his use as a diplomatic lever became a little more apparent.
“How badly does China want coverage of the Schellenberg trial? I’m in Dalian, in a bus taking us to an offsite viewing room. An official said we couldn’t leave yet because ‘some US and British journalists signed up but haven’t arrived yet.'”