Aug. 19 (UPI) -- China's Embassy in Ottawa told Canada to "stop meddling in Hong Kong affairs" after the North American country made a statement with the European Union in support of the right to peaceful assembly in Hong Kong.
Some 1.7 million Hong Kongers took to the streets Sunday for the 11th straight weekend in peaceful protest against the semi-autonomous region's government and police brutality.
Starting in early June as a protest against a controversial extradition bill that would allow some suspected criminals in Hong Kong to be sent to the mainland to face Communist Party courts has evolved into a larger pro-democracy movement as clashes with police have escalated in violence.
On Sunday, Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and EU Foreign Affairs and Security Policy High Representative Federica Mogherini said in a statement that "fundamental freedoms, including the right of peaceful assembly, and Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy ... must continue to be upheld."
The short statement makes no judgement on culpability while calling on both sides to practice restraint, reject violence and take steps to de-escalate the situation.
"Engagement in a process of broad-based and inclusive dialogue, involving all key stakeholders, is essential," they said.
In response, China called on Canada to stop "meddling in Hong Kong affairs and China's internal affairs."
It said Hong Kong was under China's sovereignty and no other country should interfere.
"The Canadian side should be cautious of its words and deeds regarding the Hong Kong related issue," the embassy said in a statement on its website. "If the Canadian side wants to express its position, it should clearly condemn the violent criminal activities, support the Hong Kong [Special Administrative Region] government in governing Hong Kong in accordance with the law and support the Hong Kong police in punishing violence."
It called the joint statement "irresponsible and erroneous."
Widely seen as retaliatory, China then arrested Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig on espionage charges.