A Chinese court said Saturday that a 15-year jail sentence for a Canadian national charged with drug smuggling was too “lenient” and remanded his case for a retrial.

The decision comes as Beijing and Ottawa remain embroiled in a diplomatic row triggered by Canada’s early December arrest of a senior executive from Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.

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Chinese police officers stand guard outside the Canadian embassy in Beijing on December 10, 2018. File photo: Greg Baker/AFP.

The high court in Liaoning, which heard Robert Lloyd Schellenberg’s appeal Saturday, said in a statement that a previous ruling in November, which sentenced him to 15 years in jail and a 150,000 yuan ($21,800) forfeiture, was “obviously inappropriate” given the severity of his crimes.

Schellenberg played an “important role” in drug smuggling and was potentially involved in international organised drug trafficking activities, said the court, and passed his case back to the lower Dalian court for a retrial without specifying a date.

The high court in Liaoning did not immediately respond to AFP’s request for comment.

China exercises a zero-tolerance policy towards drug trafficking, and has handed death sentences to foreigners found guilty of smuggling large quantities of illicit drugs.

In 2014, a Japanese national sentenced in Dalian city in northeastern Liaoning province was put to death for drug offences, according to Tokyo diplomats and media reports.

Four other Japanese were executed in China in 2010 for drugs offences.

China also sentenced a Filipina drug trafficker to death in 2013, according to the Philippine foreign department, ignoring Manila’s request to spare her life.

A harsher punishment for Schellenberg, such as the death penalty, could further strain ties between Beijing and Ottawa.

The two countries are in diplomatic dire straits after China detained two Canadians — former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and China-based businessman Michael Spavor — whom they accuse of engaging in activities that “endanger China’s security”.

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Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. File photo: Twitter.

Kovrig is a senior advisor at the International Crisis Group think tank, while Spavor facilitates trips to North Korea, including visits by former basketball star Dennis Rodman.

Though no link has been officially made, the arrests seem to be in retaliation to Canada’s December 1 arrest of Meng Wanzhou, a top executive at Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei

She was detained on a request from the United States, which has accused her of violating sanctions of Iran.

Another Canadian, a woman named Sarah McIver, was also being held for working illegally in China. She was released on Saturday.

According to the Liaoning High People’s Court, officials from the Canadian embassy in China attended Schellenberg’s hearing, as well as reporters from foreign media.

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