China accuses Canada of condoning media criticism of Hong Kong comments

China said Monday that it has complained to Canada for allegedly condoning anti-China comments that appeared in Canadian media following controversial remarks made by the Chinese ambassador.

Ties between the countries are at their lowest point in years amid China’s outrage over Canada’s detention of a top executive of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei. Last week, China’s ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, branded pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong as violent criminals and said if Canada grants them asylum it would amount to interference in China’s internal affairs.

“If the Canadian side really cares about the stability and the prosperity in Hong Kong, and really cares about the good health and safety of those 300,000 Canadian passport-holders in Hong Kong, and the large number of Canadian companies operating in Hong Kong SAR, you should support those efforts to fight violent crimes,” Cong said in a video news conference from the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa.

Cong was asked whether his remarks amounted to a threat, to which he replied, “That is your interpretation.”

On Saturday, the Toronto Sun published an editorial calling on Cong to either apologize or leave Canada. “It’s not enough for the Trudeau government to publicly scold Cong,” the paper said. “If he won’t apologize and retract his threats, boot him back to Beijing.”

Cherie Wong, the executive director of Alliance Canada Hong Kong, a group that advocates for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, called Cong’s comment a “direct threat” to all Canadians.

“It should not be lost on Canadians living in Hong Kong or China, they could be next. Ambassador Cong suggested so himself,” Wong said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian did not identify specific comments that he said resulted from a deliberate misinterpretation of Cong’s remarks, but said Canadian leaders “did not verify, but also condoned the anti-China comments spreading across the nation and made groundless accusations against China.”

“We express strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition to it and have lodged solemn complaints with the Canadian side,” Zhao told reporters Monday at a daily briefing.

Protests against the Hong Kong and mainland Chinese governments swelled last year, and Beijing clamped down on expressions of anti-government sentiment in the city with a new national security law that took effect June 30.

The law outlaws subversive, secessionist and terrorist activity, as well as collusion with foreign powers to interfere in the city’s internal affairs. The U.S., Britain and Canada accuse China of infringing on the city’s freedoms.

Cong also flatly rejected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s assertion that China is engaging in coercive diplomacy by imprisoning two Canadian men in retaliation for the arrest of a Chinese Huawei executive on an American extradition warrant. The executive, Meng Wanzhou, is living under house arrest in Vancouver while her case wends through a British Columbia court.

In December 2018, China imprisoned two Canadian men, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, and charged them with undermining China’s national security. Convicted Canadian drug smuggler Robert Schellenberg was also sentenced to death in a sudden retrial shortly after Meng’s arrest.

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