OTTAWA — Canada's arrest of a senior Huawei executive was the "backstabbing" of a friend, Chinese ambassador Lu Shaye said Thursday, and he warned of repercussions if the federal government bars her telecom company from building a Canadian 5G network.
"In China, we have a saying that a good friend would die for his friend with a shield from ... knife attacks of another friend," said Lu, speaking through an interpreter in a wide-ranging press conference with Canadian journalists at the Chinese embassy in Ottawa.
"But in this case we feel that it is completely the opposite — it's considered as backstabbing."
Lu also called Canada's arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou "politically motivated."
The Chinese envoy made the comments in his first media event since the RCMP arrested Meng in Vancouver on Dec. 1 at the request of the United States, plunging Canada-China relations to a new low.
In the days that followed Meng's arrest, China detained Michael Kovrig, a Canadian diplomat on leave, and Michael Spavor, an entrepreneur, on vague allegations of "engaging in activities that endanger the national security."
Western analysts believe their arrests are an attempt by Beijing to pressure Canada to release Meng, whose company has been accused of being an agent of Chinese intelligence.
Lu said he hopes Canada does not follow three of its Five Eyes intelligence-sharing allies — the U.S., Australia and New Zealand — in banning Huawei from building a 5G network in their countries. The Trudeau government still hasn't decided whether it will ban Huawei or not.
"If the Canadian government bans Huawei from the 5G network ... then as to what kind of repercussions there will be I am not sure," he said. "But I believe there will be repercussions."
Lu said economic relations between the two counties can be repaired and the current impasse could be resolved through negotiations, but he defended the arrests of the two Canadians in China and criticized Canada's arrest of Meng. He said she has never broken any Canadian laws.
He also warned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to back off from his efforts to recruit additional international support in Canada's feud with China.
Lu said it would be a bad idea for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland to follow through on her plan to use next week's World Economic Forum summit in Davos, Switzerland to press that case.
"If Canada has the sincerity of resolving these issues, then Canada will not do such things. We hope Canada thinks twice before making any actions," said Lu. "China will not be isolated in the international community and will not waver in our position simply because of the objection of another country."
He added that the international community is not simply composed of a few Western countries — and insisted China has a lot of friends across Asia, Africa and Latin America.
China also sentenced another Canadian, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, to death on Monday in a sudden retrial of his drug-smuggling case. He was originally sentenced in 2016 to a 15-year term, but the court delivered the new sentence after reconsidering his case.
Freeland, who has called Schellenberg's death sentence "inhumane," was asked later Thursday whether Canada would heed Lu's advice and refrain from courting more international support in Davos.
"We will continue to work hard for these three Canadians and we will continue to make very clear that the arbitrary detentions of Mr. Kovrig and of Mr. Spavor are wrong and that ... (they) should be released immediately," she said at a cabinet retreat in Sherbrooke, Que.
"That is something that Canada has been saying for some time and we're going to continue to work hard on this case."
John McCallum, Canada's ambassador to Beijing, has said that Spavor and Kovrig are being interrogated by authorities for up to four hours a day.
McCallum is scheduled to appear before an all-party parliamentary committee for an hour Friday morning to field questions from MPs about the situation. The meeting will take place behind closed doors.
Lu also said he has had phone conversations with Freeland, but he suggested Trudeau himself has been reluctant to speak personally with the Chinese government.
"We need to use bilateral channels," he said. "We should restrain ourselves from resorting to microphone diplomacy."
But the heated rhetoric continued as a former Liberal justice minister accused China of using "hostage diplomacy" against the three Canadians.
Irwin Cotler, the founder of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, took China to task for characterizing Canada's arrest of Meng as "vile, unconscionable and evil."
"These words define and describe China's hostage diplomacy ever since — including its detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor and the arbitrarily cruel death sentence of Robert Schellenberg," Cotler said in an email to The Canadian Press.
Other Canadians have felt the heat from the Canada-China dispute as well.
Last week, Montrealer Ti-Anna Wang arrived in southern China where her father, Wang Bingzhang — considered the father of China's ill-fated international pro-democracy movement — has been jailed since Chinese agents snatched him in Vietnam in 2002 and hauled him back to the People's Republic. Despite having been granted a visa for the trip, Wang wasn't allowed into the country. She and her baby daughter were turned back to South Korea.
On Wednesday, as she and her family were changing flights in Beijing on their return trip to Canada, Wang said half a dozen Chinese agents boarded her flight, took her and her daughter into custody again, and separated them from her husband.
Two hours later they were forced onto a different flight and sent back to South Korea once more. Wang's family have had to rebook their travel back to Montreal on a new flight from South Korea that takes them through the United States.
"It was a shocking, terrifying and senseless ordeal with no purpose but to bully, punish and intimidate me and my family," Wang said in an email from South Korea.
Mike Blanchfield and Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press