US, Canada Issue Travel Advisory For China After Controversial Drug Smuggling Case

By Paul Gaita 01/17/19

China has shot back by issuing a travel advisory warning of their own against Canada.

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Canada has warned its citizens to "exercise caution" while in or visiting China after a Chinese court sentenced a Canadian citizen to death for allegedly smuggling drugs.

The travel advisory, issued on January 14, came on the heels of a similar warning to US citizens from the Department of State on January 3. Both actions have been linked in the media, though not by any of the three countries, to the arrest of a Chinese business executive in Canada on alleged fraud related to US sanctions on Iran, which was followed by the detainment of two high-profile Canadians in China amidst angry salvos and fraying diplomatic relations between all three countries.

China has shot back by issuing a travel advisory warning of their own against Canada, advising Chinese citizens to "fully evaluate risks" of traveling to the north American country.

Seemingly at the center of this flurry of activity is Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, a 36-year-old Canadian who had been sentenced in 2016 to 15 years in prison for his alleged role in a methamphetamine smuggling operation.

Schellenberg, who claimed that he was a tourist who had been framed by Chinese criminals, earned a retrial from an appeals court in December 2018. But in a one-day trial on January 14, 2019, the Dalian Intermediate People's Court declared him a "principal culprit" in the smuggling scheme and imposed the death penalty. Schellenberg is expected to appeal the ruling.

Canada's Global Affairs noted that approximately 200 Canadians are currently being held in China for a "variety of alleged infractions." That number has largely remained stable, according to the department, until the arrest of Sabrina Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on December 1.

Meng, who is the chief financial officer of the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei, was apprehended at the request of the United States for her alleged role in fraudulent activity related to violation of US sanctions against Iran.

President Donald Trump has said that he would intervene in the case in the name of preserving US relations with China.

Nine days after Meng’s arrest, former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor were arrested in China on allegations of "endangering national security," which the South China Morning Post said was a term used by China to allege espionage. 

As both The New York Times and Business Insider noted, the ruling has been viewed by foreign policy experts as an attempt to influence Canada's decision to extradite Meng to the United States.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on January 14 that Schellenberg's sentence was "of extreme concern to us as a government, as it should be to all our international friends and allies, that China has chosen to begin to arbitrarily apply [the] death penalty."

Hours after Schellenberg's sentencing, Canada's Global Affairs issued the travel warning – the second such advisory from a world power against China in less than a month.

The United States warned citizens, and in particular, US-Chinese or Americans of Chinese heritage to be aware of "exit bans," which Beijing can use to "compel US citizens to participate in government investigations, to lure individuals back to China from abroad and to aid Chinese authorities in resolving civil disputes in favor of Chinese parties.”

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.