The Chinese government appears to be distancing itself from remarks made by its ambassador to Canada, saying Beijing has no plans to retaliate against Ottawa if it blocks the installation of fifth-generation cellular technology made by Huawei.

It is not true that “China wants to interfere with relevant decisions made by the Canadian government,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Monday.

Instead, she said, Canada stands to lose only Huawei’s expertise and technological sophistication if it bans the company, whose Chinese roots have raised concern among western democracies that its technology can be used by Beijing for espionage.

“We all know that Huawei is an outstanding 5G provider on the global level. If you don’t cooperate with it, from whom else can you get this service?” Ms. Hua asked.

Her comments differed substantially from a threat issued last week by Lu Shaye, China’s chief representative in Ottawa, who told reporters that he hopes ”the Canadian government and the relevant authorities could make a wise decision” on allowing Huawei 5G equipment onto Canadian networks.

If Canada bans Huawei, Mr. Lu warned, “I surely believe there will be consequences.”

Mr. Lu’s remark sparked broad concern about China’s willingness to use its substantial economic clout, and rising diplomatic influence, to punish countries for refusing the goods sold by its companies. Such a reprisal would have global consequences, given the broad reach of Chinese-made goods.

But Ms. Hua, who over the last week has publicly lashed out at Canadian leadership, made no such threat on Monday. Instead, she bristled at the idea that China would seek to intimidate other countries, saying those “who keep talking about ‘threats’ are Canadian officials, not Chinese.’”

She repeated her attacks on what she called Canadian “megaphone diplomacy,” saying Canada’s leader — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — is not “solving the problem at all” by raising the tenor of the debate.

The Canadian government has sought to marshal international criticism against China for its actions following the arrest in Vancouver of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou. In the weeks that followed, Chinese state security detained two Canadians — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — and sentenced a third, Robert Schellenberg, to death after a hasty retrial for organized international drug trafficking.

Western critics have accused China of “hostage diplomacy.”

Ms. Hua, however, criticized Canada for “making an empty show of strength” — a Chinese idiom translated by an interpreter as “bravado.”

Huawei is seen as a Chinese national champion, a pillar in Beijing’s efforts to become a global leader in technological innovation. The company has said it is committed to privacy, with founder Ren Zhengfei saying last week, “we will never harm any nation or any individual.

But western intelligence leaders have warned that Huawei’s technology poses a security risk, since Chinese law obliges companies to cooperate with the country’s intelligence agencies. As a result, governments and telecommunication providers in the U.S., the UK, Australia, Japan and Germany have all either expressed concern over Huawei equipment, or imposed outright bans.

The Globe and Mail, January 20, 2019