China said on Wednesday that it was "not worried in the slightest" by mounting international concern over the death sentence handed to a Canadian for drug smuggling. Monday's sentence for Robert Schellenberg for smuggling 222 kg (489 lbs) of methamphetamines prompted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to accuse China of "arbitrarily" applying the death penalty. The United Nations said it was opposed to the death penalty apart from exceptional circumstances, and Australia's acting foreign minister Simon Birmingham said he was "deeply concerned" by the case.
Speaking at a daily news briefing in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Canada's "so-called allies could be counted on ten fingers" and did not represent the views of the wider international community. "I can very clearly state that we are not worried in the slightest," Hua said of the mounting outcry, adding that a majority of Chinese supported severe punishment for drug crimes.
Schellenberg's sentence has further strained relations between China and Canada, already aggravated by the December arrest of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, on a U.S. extradition request as part of an investigation into suspected violations of U.S. trade sanctions. Days after Meng's arrest in Vancouver, China detained two Canadians on suspicion of endangering state security. China has not linked any of the three Canadians' cases to Meng's arrest but has warned of severe consequences if she was not immediately released.
The Global Times, a state-run tabloid with a nationalistic bent, said China "cannot be weak at this time". "Canada does not have any special cards that can allow Chinese law to bow its head to it," the newspaper said in an editorial on Wednesday, adding that Canada's protests would have no effect. Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Tuesday that Ottawa had formally applied for clemency for Schellenberg, as it usually does for citizens condemned to death abroad. When asked if China typically listened to this type of request, Hua said the judiciary was not subject to "interference from administrative organs".
"You ask whether China is willing to listen to the Canadian side's request, but I don't know if Canada's leaders or politicians have seriously listened to China's solemn position," Hua said. "We have very clearly outlined the case's facts and its seriousness," she added. Schellenberg had appealed against an original 15-year prison sentence issued in November, but the court in Liaoning province sided with prosecutors who argued at a retrial that the punishment was too light. A lawyer for Schellenberg, Zhang Dongshuo, said his client would appeal.
(With inputs from agencies.)