November 22, 2019 / 6:37 PM / 17 days ago

China envoy warns of 'very bad damage' if Canada follows U.S. lead on Hong Kong

OTTAWA (Reuters) - China’s new ambassador to Canada on Friday warned Ottawa not to follow the U.S. lead and formally back protesters in Hong Kong, saying such a move would cause “very bad damage” to already poor ties with Beijing.

China's new ambassador to Canada Cong Peiwu attends a news conference for a small group of reporters at the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa, Canada November 22, 2019. REUTERS/Blair Gable

Canada, locked in a trade and diplomatic dispute with China, has repeatedly expressed concern about the safety of its 300,000 citizens in Hong Kong, hit by five months of mass demonstrations for more democracy and autonomy.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed two bills to back the protesters and send a warning to China about human rights.

“If somebody here really tries to ... have this kind of law like that in the United States, it’s very dangerous,” said Chinese envoy Cong Peiwu, speaking in English.

“If anything happens like this it will certainly have a very bad damage on our bilateral relationship and that is not in the interests of Canada,” he told a news conference in the embassy. He formally presented his credentials on Nov 1.

The uncompromising tone of his message indicated that while the ambassador may have changed, China’s approach has not.

Cong repeated Beijing’s demand that Canada immediately release Huawei Technologies Co Ltd Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, who is out on bail after Canadian police detained her on a U.S. arrest warrant last December.

“This incident has led to the severe difficulties the two countries are facing nowadays,” said Cong.

Shortly after Meng’s arrest, China picked up two Canadian citizens on state secret charges, and has since blocked imports of canola seed from Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, asked on Wednesday what additional measures Canada would take to protect its citizens in Hong Kong, said, “We will continue to call for de-escalation and an end to violence” while urging dialogue.

If Canada wanted to protect its citizens, it should ask “those rioters to stop the violence, otherwise those Canadians living in Hong Kong, how can they be safe?” Cong said.

In a move that could further irritate China, two prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activists will accept an award on Saturday at a major Canadian gathering that is partly funded by the federal government.

Figo Chan and Emily Lau are due to accept the John McCain Prize for Leadership in Public Service on behalf of the people of Hong Kong. It will be presented to them at the Halifax International Security Forum in Atlantic Canada.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Cynthia Osterman

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