China’s ambassador to Canada is urging Ottawa to stop granting asylum to democracy activists from Hong Kong, whom he described as violent criminals, and warned that accepting these people could jeopardize the “health and safety” of 300,000 Canadians who live in the former British colony.

Asked if he was issuing a threat, envoy Cong Peiwu replied: “That is your interpretation.”

He also rejected the accusation from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week that his country practises “coercive diplomacy.”

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne called the envoy’s statements inappropriate.

“The reported comments by the Chinese ambassador are totally unacceptable and disturbing,” the minister said in a statement.

“I have instructed Global Affairs to call the Ambassador in to make clear in no uncertain terms that Canada will always stand up for human rights and the rights of Canadians around the world.”

Mr. Cong used a news conference on Thursday marking the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries to say Beijing finds it unacceptable that Canada recently accepted two Hong Kong pro-democracy dissidents as political refugees. He also took strong exception to a call from nearly 60 MPs and senators to shelter more Hong Kong residents fleeing China’s national-security law.

“We strongly urge the Canadian side not to grant so-called political asylum to those violent criminals in Hong Kong, because it is interference in China’s domestic affairs, and certainly it will embolden those violent criminals,” he said.

The Globe and Mail has reported that Canada has accepted at least two Hong Kong activists as refugees, granting them protection in early September. More than 45 other dissidents are awaiting approval for asylum, sources have told The Globe.

Mr. Cong indicated any further action to shelter Hong Kong residents could have consequences for the many Canadians living in the Asian financial hub.

“If the Canadian side really cares about the stability and the prosperity in Hong Kong, and really cares about the good health and safety of those 300,000 Canadian passport holders in Hong Kong and the large number of Canadian companies operating in Hong Kong … you should support those efforts to fight violent crimes,” he said.

More than three months ago, Beijing imposed a new national-security law on Hong Kong that criminalizes dissent and protest with penalties of up to life in prison.

Mr. Cong said the measure provides stability.

“I want to make clear that a stable and prosperous Hong Kong … is not only in the interest of the vast majority of Hong Kong residents, but it is also conducive to the majority of those … law-abiding foreigners and enterprises in Hong Kong,” he said.

The ambassador also said Beijing would have a “strong reaction” if Parliament were to pass any resolution that condemned China’s treatment of its Muslim Uyghur minority as “genocide.” More than one million Uyghurs are in detention camps in Xinjiang province, facilities the Chinese government calls “vocational and education training centres.”

“We will take resolute measures to safeguard our sovereignty and national security,” he said. He rejected widespread allegations that genocide is taking place in Xinjiang, saying the Uyghurs “live in harmony … and [China’s] human-rights record is the best in history.”

Mr. Cong also lashed out Mr. Trudeau, who on Tuesday marked the 50th anniversary by accusing China of resorting to “coercive diplomacy” in its crackdown in Hong Kong, human-rights abuses against Uyghurs and the arbitrary detentions of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

“There is no coercive diplomacy on the Chinese side,” he said. “The Hong Kong issue and the Xinjiang-related issue are not about the issue of human rights. They are purely about internal affairs of China, which brooks no interference from the outside.”

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan last week described Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, who were locked up days after Ottawa arrested a Chinese executive of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. on a U.S. extradition request, as victims of Chinese “hostage diplomacy.” Mr. Cong said on Thursday the cases are not connected, and that the two men are suspected of “engaging in activities which endangered our national security.”

Mr. Cong called for the immediate release of the Huawei executive, Meng Wanzhou and praised former Canadian officials and diplomats from the Jean Chrétien era who have called for a prisoner exchange. The two Canadians were imprisoned in December, 2018, shortly after Ms. Meng was detained over allegations of bank fraud relating to violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran.

More than 60 MPs and senators signed a joint statement on Thursday calling on the Prime Minister to create a “safe harbour program” for Hong Kong residents and offer them permanent residency. Canada has strong ties to Hong Kong, with more than half a million Canadians tracing their roots to the city.

Canadians of Hong Kong origin on Thursday urged Canada to do more.

“Hong Kong has been turned into a police state,” Gloria Fung, president of Canada-Hong Kong Link, said at a news conference on Thursday. “Over 10,000 people have been arrested, the youngest of them 11 years old. There have been numerous disappearances and apparent killings made to look like suicide.

“Our Prime Minister has pledged to help protect human rights worldwide. However, earnest words of concern have not helped the people of Hong Kong as they face a worsening humanitarian crisis,” she said. “Shamefully, Canada’s federal government has done little to help.”

Mabel Tung, chair of the Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement, has criticized Mr. Trudeau for moving quickly to impose sanctions on officials in economically insignificant countries such as Belarus, but ignoring calls for sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials over human-rights abuses.

“We can only conclude our elected officials … are intimidated by the political and economic clout of China,” she said.

On Thursday, 17 civil-rights groups, including Democracy and Human Rights for China and Friends of Hong Kong Calgary, urged Canada to remove pandemic restrictions that prevent would-be refugees from flying here to seek asylum. The people recently granted asylum and the group awaiting approval arrived before the borders were closed in March.

They called on Canada to take special measures to enable activists to leave Hong Kong despite COVID-19 travel restrictions or confiscated travel documents.

Former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler, who is supporting these calls to action, described China as now the greatest threat to the international legal order.

The Globe and Mail, October 15, 2020