Could chief financial officer be the key to Robert Lloyd Schellenberg avoiding his death penalty fate?

China has criticised Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

China has expressed its "strong dissatisfaction," with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after he criticised a death sentence served to a Canadian national accused of drug smuggling in China.

It's the latest move in a game of diplomatic chess between the two nations.

Relations began to sour after Canadian officials detained Chinese businesswoman Meng Wanzhou at Vancouver airport in December.

Why is Meng Wanzhou's arrest relevant?

The 45-year-old is the chief financial executive of China's largest private company, electronics giant Huawei. She was arrested after the US issued an arrest warrant for allegedly misleading banks by breaking sanctions against trading with Iran.

She now faces extradition to the US on fraud charges.

The arrest of Meng Wanzhou appears to has re-stoked interest in Schellenberg's case. Credit: Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP

What does China think about her detention?

International commentators believe China is retaliating by using a Canadian national as a diplomatic pawn. Robert Lloyd Schellenberg was originally detained by Chinese authorities more than four years ago.

The Canadian was accused of conspiring to smuggle 222 kilograms of methamphetamine from China to Australia. He denies the charges, stating he was a tourist visiting the country.

He initially went on trial in 2016 and in November of last year was sentenced to 15 years behind bars in China.

Supporters hold signs and Chinese flags outside British Columbia Supreme Court. Credit: AP

Why is there suddenly new interest in Schellenberg's case?

The arrest of Meng Wanzhou appears to have re-stoked Beijing's interest in the case with local judiciary retrying Schellenberg, claiming the original sentence was too lenient. It was at this secondary trial that he was sentenced to death.

How likely is it that he will be executed?

China rarely executes westerners, but the move has still caused outrage around the world and been condemned by human rights groups.

The last time it made such a decision was in 2009 when it executed a British man, Akmal Shaikh, who was accused of attempting to smuggle heroin found in a suitcase he was transporting. His family say he was tricked into carrying the bag.

Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg attends his retrial in China. Credit: PA

How has Canada responded?

"It is of extreme concern to us as a government, as it should be to all our international friends and allies, that China has chosen to begin to arbitrarily apply a death penalty," said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday.

Beijing hit back at Trudeau, stating public safety as the motive behind its action. Speaking at a media briefing, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: "I think any responsible government that takes resolute measures to deal with the case just reflects the responsible attitude and strong determination of the government in protecting the lives and safety of its people".

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has hit out at China's actions. Credit: PA

How have his family reacted?

Schellenberg's aunt, Lauri Nelson-Jones, said the news of his execution was the family's "worst-case fear confirmed," adding they are anxiously awaiting news of an appeal.

The court gave no indication that the death penalty could be commuted.

Amnesty International urged that Canadian's sentence be revoked, citing the case as "highly politicised".

It is believed Schellenberg’s fate is likely to be drawn into diplomatic negotiations over China’s demand for Meng’s release.