China and Canada Issue Travel Alerts for Each Other as Death Sentence Battle Heats Up

Police patrol outside the Canadian embassy in Beijing on January 15, 2019. - A Chinese court sentenced a Canadian man to death on drug trafficking charges on January 14 after his previous 15-year prison sentence was deemed too lenient, deepening a diplomatic rift as Canadian premier Justin Trudeau accused Beijing …
GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty

The Canadian government issued a travel advisory on Tuesday warning citizens about the “arbitrary enforcement of local laws” in China, a reference to the unusual death sentence given to Canadian citizen Robert Lloyd Schellenberg on Monday.

China responded by issuing a similar travel warning against Canada and insisting Schellenberg’s sentence was not a political move in the ongoing battle over Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

Canada’s Ministry of Global Affairs revised its advisory for China to advise a “high degree of caution” for travelers “due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws.”

The terse bulletin did not offer further details, but the language about arbitrary enforcement is identical to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s criticism of the death sentence given to Schellenberg, who was in the process of appealing a 15-year prison sentence for drug smuggling when he was abruptly condemned to death.

The U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory for China two weeks ago that also warned about the “arbitrary enforcement of local laws.”

A few hours after Canada issued its travel alert, the Chinese Foreign Ministry responded with a similar warning that Chinese citizens could be “arbitrarily detained at the request of a third nation” if they visit Canada. This was clearly a reference to the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver at the request of the United States, which wishes to prosecute her for committing financial fraud in the course of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry also insisted on Tuesday that the death sentence for Schellenberg was not politicized, using the most insulting and contemptuous terms.

“The Canadian government should remind its citizens not about facing threats in China, but to never come to China to commit serious offenses such as smuggling or trafficking drugs. Those who commit these serious offenses in China will definitely face serious consequences,” sneered Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.

China’s state-run Global Times took the dispute down to the level of schoolyard taunts, claiming Canada is politicizing justice by accusing China of politicizing justice:

Public opinion in Canada has claimed recently that China is “politicizing” Schellenberg’s case, but what Canada is doing is actually politicizing law.

Western centrism has been very obvious in recent disputes between China and Canada. Whatever Canada does, it is the rule of law, but whatever China does is not. Canadian elites are feeling so righteous with this double standard, and it is time for them to wake up from such cultural and value narcissism.

Schellenberg’s case has received much attention from the West. Some people may misread the case, but an important message will be delivered to Canada and the West: drug smuggling faces higher risks in China than in the West because the death sentence awaits the risk-taker here. The trial will also send the message that China won’t yield to outside pressure in implementing its law.

The trial of Schellenberg shows China practicing its judicial sovereignty. Western media should cover this case responsibly to avoid misleading potential offenders of Chinese law. Schellenberg’s trial is not a “political verdict.” Otherwise, if there were no special political reason, would it be okay to smuggle drugs in China? Of course not.

The Chinese paper assured Canadians they will find China’s national will “unbreakable” and its efforts to enlist the aid of the United States and other Western allies will be futile. It accused everyone who thinks Schellenberg’s fate is linked to Meng Wanzhou of showing “rude contempt toward Chinese law.”

Another Global Times op-ed on Tuesday schizophrenically proposed Schellenberg’s death sentence is a political act, an “actual move” to remind the West that China is not “timid and soft.”

The editorial saw the Schellenberg case as a way to demonstrate China is “powerful enough to safeguard its own laws from external brutal impact and is able to maintain strength in defending its core interests.”

“China needs a broad mind-set and a strong heart, especially at this point in time. Ottawa is backed by Washington. Meanwhile it is forming cliques with more Western allies. So what? Beijing should stick with itself as long as it believes in itself. No consequences should worry us if our basic national diplomatic principles and the general principles of international relations can be defended,” the Global Times advised.

CNN proposed a different sort of political significance for the Schellenberg case on Tuesday, noting that contrary to the claims made by Chinese officials and media, the execution of Western nationals has been quite rare until now – but Beijing might be taking this opportunity to signal the unwritten rules are changing.

“As China’s economic and political might grows, the age of leniency for Westerners there just might have expired,” CNN suggested, framing the potential execution of a Canadian citizen as not just a move in the Meng Wanzhou game, but a gesture of defiance and assertion of global prestige along the lines envisioned by the second Global Times editorial.

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