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Canada 'profoundly concerned' over China death sentence for citizen in drug case

'Profoundly concerned'

Canada is "profoundly concerned" about a Canadian citizen sentenced to death Thursday on drug charges in China, a spokesman for the federal government says.

The Guangzhou Municipal Intermediate Court announced Xu Weihong's penalty on Thursday and said an alleged accomplice, Wen Guanxiong, had been given a life sentence.

The brief court statement gave no details but media in the southern Chinese city at the heart of the country's manufacturing industry said Xu and Wen had gathered ingredients and tools to make the drug ketamine in October 2016, then stored the final product in Xu's home in Guangzhou's Haizhu district.

Police later confiscated more than 120 kilograms of the drug from Xu's home and another address, the reports said. Ketamine is a powerful pain-killer that has become popular among club-goers in China and elsewhere.

"Canada opposes the use of the death penalty in all cases, everywhere," said Global Affairs Canada spokesman John Babcock. "Canada has consistently raised our firm opposition to the death penalty with China and will continue to do so."

He said Canadian diplomats have given Xu consular assistance and were present for the sentencing. Canada is seeking clemency.

Death sentences are automatically referred to China’s highest court for review.

Relations between China and Canada soured over the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, an executive and the daughter of the founder of Chinese tech giant Huawei, at Vancouver's airport in late 2018. The U.S. wants her extradited to face fraud charges over the company's dealings with Iran. Her arrest infuriated Beijing, which sees her case as a political move designed to prevent China's rise as a global technology power.

In apparent retaliation, China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor, accusing them of vague national security crimes.

Xu was arrested two years before Canada detained Meng and relations deteriorated. Death sentences when cases involve large amounts of drugs are not rare in China.

In April 2019, China gave the death penalty to a Canadian citizen identified as Fan Wei in a multinational drug smuggling case.

But China did hand a death sentence to convicted Canadian drug smuggler Robert Schellenberg in a sudden retrial following Meng's arrest, after he had already been sentenced.

China has also placed restrictions on various Canadian exports to China, including canola seed, in an apparent attempt to pressure Ottawa into releasing Meng.

These tensions, and how the Liberal government has handled them was the subject of a hearing by the House of Commons Canada-China relations committee later Thursday.

David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to Beijing, told the committee that he had hoped the federal government would use the period of increased tensions to rethink Canada's relationship with China and more realistically assess the Chinese government's strategy to suppress human rights domestically and exert economic and diplomatic blackmail to expand its influence on global affairs.

"But old approaches die hard," he said.

"It's not clear that the government has completely given up the fiction that China is our friend. Nor has it consistently summoned the courage to speak and act with integrity."



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