Canada criticizes Chinese ambassador's remarks, which embassy says were misinterpreted

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada on Monday criticized remarks by the Chinese ambassador to Ottawa last week about Hong Kong protesters, in the latest round of a long-running diplomatic dispute tied to the arrest of a Huawei Technologies Co Ltd executive in Vancouver.

Although the dispute centers on Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, a Chinese citizen arrested in late 2018 on a bank-fraud warrant issued by U.S. authorities, the ambassador’s comments were about granting asylum to Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters.

At a news conference on Thursday, Ambassador Cong Peiwu warned Canada against granting asylum to protesters because he said they were “violent criminals” who threatened the “health and safety” of the 300,000 Canadian passport holders living in Hong Kong.

Many Canadian media interpreted the comments as a threat to Canada’s citizens.

On Friday, the leader of the main opposition Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole, called on Cong to retract the comments and publicly apologize or go home, and the Toronto Sun newspaper echoed that in an editorial on Saturday.

Speaking in parliament on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the remarks were “not appropriate in any way of diplomatic relations between two countries.”

The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa posted comments on Twitter on Monday saying that “certain media deliberately misinterpreted the Chinese ambassador’s remarks.”

“China firmly opposes Canada granting ‘political asylum’ to the violent criminals in Hong Kong. Canada should denounce ideological bias and stop meddling in China’s domestic affairs,” the Twitter comments said.

Shortly after the arrest of Huawei’s Meng, Beijing detained two Canadians on national security charges and halted imports of canola seed. Meng has said she is innocent and is fighting extradition to the United States in a Canadian court.

Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Peter Cooney