The Canadian Prime Minister defied after China’s ambassador to Ottawa, Cong Peiwu, warned against granting asylum to activists in Hong Kong.

Canada will continue to defend human rights in China, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said after a senior Chinese diplomat warned Ottawa not to welcome democracy activists to Hong Kong.

“We will speak out loud and clear for human rights around the world, whether it is about the situation of the Uyghurs, whether it is the very worrying situation in Hong Kong, whether China is calling for its forced diplomacy,” Trudeau said on Friday.

But he added: “We don’t want to escalate.”

China’s ambassador to Ottawa, Cong Peiwu, warned Canada on Thursday against granting asylum to activists from Hong Kong, which could have consequences for the “health and safety” of the 300,000 Canadians who live on the theoretically autonomous Chinese territory.

Canadian daily The Globe and Mail said Ottawa recently granted asylum to a Hong Kong couple, which the Canadian government has neither confirmed nor denied.

In a sign of increasing tension between the two countries, Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne had previously described the ambassador’s remarks as “completely unacceptable and worrying”.

The new leader of the Conservative opposition, Erin O’Toole, called on the Chinese diplomat to “withdraw his remarks completely and to apologize publicly”.

“If the ambassador does not do this quickly, we expect the government to withdraw his ID,” he said.

Relations between China and Canada have been frozen since December 2018, when Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, on the basis of a US arrest warrant.

Washington accused them of violating US sanctions on Iran and is pushing for their extradition.

Shortly after their arrest, China imprisoned a former Canadian diplomat, Michael Kovrig, and a Canadian businessman, Michael Spavor, for espionage, an act viewed in western capitals as an act of repression against Beijing.

In August this year, a Chinese court in Guangzhou sentenced a Canadian national, Xu Weihong, to death on drug-related charges.

Last year, two other Canadians, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg and Fan Wei, were also sentenced to death in separate drug cases.

Canada has also increased political and diplomatic pressure on Beijing.

Earlier this month, a Canadian warship sailed the sensitive Taiwan Strait, a voyage that comes at a time of divided military tension between China and Taiwan.

Canada’s Navy has sailed the Taiwan Strait before, including last September.

China, which claims democratic Taiwan as its own territory, has been ramping up its military activities around the island in recent weeks, including sending fighter jets to cross the unofficial center line that acts as a buffer in the strait.