The man, who was not identified, was sentenced Wednesday, but news of his fate was only published Saturday on the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court’s website.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was “deeply saddened” by the verdict, and is providing consular assistance to the man. He was not identified, citing privacy concerns.
“Australia opposes the death penalty, in all circumstances for all people. We support the universal abolition of the death penalty and are committed to pursuing this goal through all the avenues available to us,” the department said in a statement.
Drug smuggling convictions in China usually carry steep penalties, including lengthy prison sentences and capital punishment for both foreigners and Chinese nationals. Anyone found with more than 50 grams (1.76 ounces) of a controlled substance can face the death penalty.
The timing of the Canadians’ sentences led some experts to fear that they were being used as political leverage, since China’s judicial system is notoriously opaque. One of those sentenced, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, denies that he is a drug smuggler and says he was just a tourist.
During the same period, two Canadian nationals working for NGOs, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, were arrested in China on charges that critics say appeared politically motivated. The duo are still in detention and have not been seen publicly. Meng remains under house arrest.
China is Australia’s largest trading partner by far, with total trade between the two countries totaling more than $214 billion in 2018 alone. As Australia faces the very real prospect of a coronavirus-related recession, that economic relationship is more important than ever.
Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said the next day that Chinese officials had been adamant the restrictions had nothing to do with Australia’s calls for an independent investigation, but experts said the decisions by Beijing were almost certainly retaliation.