OTTAWA — Canada's ambassador to China says he "misspoke" when he suggested detained Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou had a strong case to avoid extradition to the United States.
"I regret that my comments with respect to the legal proceedings of Ms. Meng have created confusion. I misspoke," John McCallum said in a statement Thursday.
"These comments do not accurately represent my position on this issue. As the government has consistently made clear, there has been no political involvement in this process."
McCallum's candid comments this week about the case of Huawei's Meng raised eyebrows and fuelled speculation they were a political ploy to end Ottawa's deepening diplomatic crisis with China.
In a Toronto-area news conference on Tuesday with Chinese-language journalists, McCallum said he thought Meng had strong legal arguments that could help her avoid extradition. He also listed several possibilities that could help her with her case.
"As Canada's Ambassador to China, I play no role in assessing any arguments or making any determinations in the extradition process," McCallum said Thursday.
"The Canadian government's priority — and my priority — is securing the release of the two Canadians arbitrarily detained in China and ensuring that the rights of all of our citizens are protected."
Earlier Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dismissed calls to remove McCallum from his post, saying such a change wouldn't help two Canadians detained by Chinese authorities get home sooner.
Trudeau told reporters in Quispamsis, N.B. that his government's focus is on getting detained Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor home safely from China and ensuring their rights are respected.
"Making a change would not help release those Canadians a day sooner," Trudeau said.
On Wednesday, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called on Trudeau to fire McCallum for the remarks, which he said raise grave concerns about the politicization of the Meng case.
China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said her government has "noted the relevant remarks by Ambassador McCallum" and reiterated its demand that Meng be released from her unjust detention, which she blamed on Canada and the United States.
"We have made our stern position clear," Hua said Thursday, in translated remarks from her ministry's website.
"In order to change the current situation, the Canadian side needs to face up to the issue squarely, take China's solemn concerns seriously, and take measures to correct its mistakes."
She noted Canada was acting on an extradition request from the U.S.
"We hope that the Canadian side will make the right choice instead of risking endangering itself for other's gains," Hua said.
Arbitrary detention of Canadians: PM
In the days that followed Meng's Dec. 1 arrest, China detained Kovrig, a Canadian diplomat on leave, and Spavor, an entrepreneur, on allegations of endangering China's national security.
Trudeau has called their detentions arbitrary and Western analysts believe their cases are part of an attempt by Beijing to pressure Canada into releasing Meng, whose arrest has angered the Chinese government.
At the top of McCallum's list of Meng's legal options was a possible defence on the grounds of political interference following comments by U.S. President Donald Trump last month that he might intervene in Meng's case if it would help him nail down a trade deal with China.
McCallum also said Meng can argue against the extra-territorial aspect to her case and the fact the fraud allegations U.S. officials made against her are related to Iran sanctions that Canada did not sign onto.
In Beijing, Hua told reporters Meng's case was a "serious mistake from the very beginning."
"The extradition request the U.S. raised to Canada is essentially related to its unilateral sanctions on Iran. It does not comply with the international law and is not legitimate," she added.
Our focus remains making sure that the Canadians arbitrarily detained in China have their rights respected and, indeed, that they have an opportunity to get home as soon as possible.Justin Trudeau
Trudeau stressed Thursday that Canada is following the law.
"We will always stay grounded in defence of the rule of law and the integrity of our justice system, which of course includes the capacity for people to defend themselves enthusiastically which will be fully afforded to Ms. Meng and in her rights within the Canadian justice system," Trudeau said.
"Our focus remains making sure that the Canadians arbitrarily detained in China have their rights respected and, indeed, that they have an opportunity to get home as soon as possible."
Following Meng's arrest, China also sentenced another Canadian, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, to death in a sudden retrial of his drug-smuggling case. Schellenberg had initially been sentenced in 2016 to 15 years behind bars.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has asked for clemency for Schellenberg and has called his death penalty "inhumane."
Also on HuffPost: