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Cong Peiwu, Ambassador of the People's Republic of China to Canada, participates in a roundtable interview with journalists at the Embassy of China in Ottawa on Nov. 22, 2019.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

China’s new ambassador to Canada is warning that any effort by Ottawa to emulate U.S. legislation that paves the way for sanctions against Hong Kong officials will seriously hurt Canada-China relations.

“If anything happens like this we will certainly have very bad damage in our bilateral relationship and that is not in the interest of Canada,” envoy Cong Peiwu told reporters at his first major interview with Canadian media.

He later added: “We are firmly opposed to any foreign interference.”

This week the U.S. Congress passed legislation to back protesters in Hong Kong and threaten China with possible sanctions, which sources told Reuters that U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to sign into law in the coming days.

Among other measures, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act would enable the U.S. government to impose sanctions on Hong Kong officials responsible for human-rights violations – including visa bans and asset freezes.

Mass protests for greater democracy and autonomy have rocked Hong Kong for more than five months, with escalating violence and fears that China will ratchet up its response to end the unrest.

The U.S. legislation expressly says in its text that Washington should work with allies such as Canada “to promote democracy and human rights in Hong Kong."

Mr. Cong said, however, that the U.S. legislation would only encourage the protesters, whom he referred to as “rioters,” to continue their fight.

“What they have done is going to embolden those violent criminals,” the ambassador said of the U.S. legislation.

“What happened in Hong Kong has nothing to do with democracy and human rights.”

There are an estimated 300,000 Canadian citizens in Hong Kong, according to the Canadian government. This far outnumbers U.S. citizens in the Asian city, which the U.S. State Department estimates at 85,000.

While Mr. Cong is new – he replaced Lu Shaye, who left in June – the message he delivered to Canadians on Friday is the same as what Beijing has stated for months.

He said the “severe difficulties” in the China-Canada relationship were caused by Canada, when it detained Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd. chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou nearly one year ago on a U.S. extradition request.

And Mr. Cong said what will repair relations is Ms. Meng’s return. “The current difficulty was due to the handling of Madame Meng by the Canadian side,” he said.

Ms. Meng, a high-ranking member of China’s corporate elite, was arrested at Vancouver International Airport on Dec. 1 last year. She is charged with bank fraud and accused of misleading the bank HSBC about Huawei’s business in Iran. She has said she is innocent and is fighting extradition.

Shortly after Ms. Meng’s detention, China locked up two Canadians in China, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor. It has since accused them of espionage. While Ms. Meng is free on bail and living in her $10-million Vancouver home, the two men remain incarcerated.

Mr. Cong said he hopes Canada would “send out a clear message to ask those rioters to stop the violence” in Hong Kong. “Otherwise, those Canadians living in Hong Kong – how can they be safe?”

He said China wants to build a deeper relationship with Canada. "For the Communist Party of China, our mission and aspiration is to see happiness for the Chinese people, the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and at the same time peace and development for ... mankind.”

Asked how China would react if Canada barred Huawei Technologies from this country’s 5G networks, as the United States is asking for, Mr. Cong said he hopes Ottawa will provide “a fair, just and non-discriminatory business environment for Chinese companies including Huawei,” and said the U.S. is trying to hobble Chinese tech firms with “groundless accusations” that they represent a security risk.

Jane Lee, a member of Torontonians Stand with Hong Kong, said she would like to see Canada bring forward its own legislation on Hong Kong or take other actions.

Canadian Friends of Hong Kong, a group that supports the demands of Hong Kongers for more democracy and civil liberties, is calling on Ottawa to sanction Hong Kong officials for violations of human rights. Natalie Hui said her group would support the introduction of legislation like that passed by the U.S. Congress.

But she said any such legislative process shouldn’t be used to delay the imposition of sanctions on Hong Kong officials.

Ms. Hui noted that Canada has already passed the Sergei Magnitsky act that allows Canada to impose asset freezes and travel bans on human-rights abusers around the world – and Ottawa could act quickly if it wants to.

“Canada already has a [Magnitsky law] in place for use. All we need is the political will to apply it. We can then start to compile the list of individuals from Hong Kong and China to be sanctioned,“ Ms. Hui said.

“It is the first essential step for the Trudeau minority government to reset the tone for its renewed mandate in dealing with China, to send a clear message to all Canadians, especial Hong Kong and Chinese Canadians that the federal government won’t sell them out in return for profit.”

With a report from Reuters