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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Veteran Hong Kong democracy campaigner Martin Lee, testifying on Tuesday at a Canadian parliamentary committee over the objections of the Chinese government, appealed to Ottawa to stand with those struggling for democracy in Hong Kong.
"I hope the Canadian government and the Canadian Parliament will speak up for us at this difficult stage," Lee told the House of Commons foreign affairs committee.
"If Hong Kong were to go down the slippery slope as now, Hong Kong will become just another Chinese city," said Lee, a former legislator and one of the founders of Hong Kong's main opposition Democratic Party.
Johanna Quinney, spokeswoman for Canadian Foreign Minister Rob Nicholson, responded that Canada has recently raised concerns regarding the treatment of political dissidents with senior Chinese leaders.
"Canada continues to support the rule of law and the democratic aspirations of the Hong Kong people," she said in an email to Reuters.
China's Ambassador Luo Zhaohui had written committee chair Dean Allison and other Canadian officials voicing "deep concern and strong opposition" to the committee's plan to hear from Lee.
"Hong Kong's political development falls entirely within China's domestic affairs. The Chinese side resolutely opposes any foreign governments, institutions and individuals to interfere in Hong Kong affairs," Luo wrote.
"In consideration of the sensitive and complicated situation in Hong Kong, we hope that the Canadian side will not hold such a hearing, not intervene in Hong Kong's internal affairs in any form, so as not to send wrong signals to the outside world and cause any disturbance to China-Canada relations."
Allison did not directly address Luo's letter, but welcomed Lee at the start of the hearing as a "champion of human rights."
Lee said Beijing could not properly accuse Ottawa of interfering in Hong Kong affairs since it had lobbied for international support of the 1984 Joint Declaration, which provided for the handover of power from Britain to China.
"The Canadian government, having been lobbied successfully by China to support the Joint Declaration, certainly owes a moral obligation to the Hong Kong people when things are going wrong," Lee said.
Peter Goldring, a Conservative member of the House committee, said the Chinese ambassador's letter only made him want to dig more into the question of democracy in Hong Kong.
"It's heavy-handed," he told reporters. "I think it's clumsy diplomacy."
Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and G Crosse