China formally arrests 2 Canadians after months of detention

Chinese authorities have formally arrested two Canadians and are accusing them of crimes related to national security, likely further increasing tension between Ottawa and Beijing.  

Businessman Michael Spavor, who worked with North Korea, and former diplomat Michael Kovrig were picked up separately in December, shortly after Canada arrested Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver. She now faces extradition to the United States.

China has repeatedly demanded Meng be released, and has reacted angrily to extradition proceedings against her in a Canadian court.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang told a daily news briefing in Beijing on Thursday morning that Kovrig is suspected of gathering state secrets for other countries and Spavor is accused of stealing and illegally providing state secrets.

He wouldn’t say when the men will be formally charged, just that they had recently been arrested.

China hoped Canada “will not make irresponsible remarks” about China’s law enforcement and judicial proceedings, Lu said.

Canadian diplomats have been allowed to visit the two men in detention.

Global Affairs Canada said Thursday it “condemns their arbitrary arrest as we condemned their arbitrary detention on Dec. 10.”

“We reiterate our demand that China immediately release Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor,” a GAC spokesperson said.

“Canadian consular officials have made recent consular visits to the two men and will continue to provide consular services to them and their families. Due to the provisions of the Privacy Act, no further information can be disclosed.”

China has said it is fully guaranteeing both men’s lawful rights. Kovrig also holds Hungarian citizenship.

Kovrig works for the International Crisis Group (ICG) non-governmental organization which focuses on conflict resolution.

With their formal arrest, they could soon face trial, though it is unclear when that may be.

Meng Wanzhou, seen here as she leaves her home in Vancouver last week, was arrested in Canada at the request of the U.S. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

While Canada says China has made no specific link between the detentions of the two men and Meng’s arrest, experts and former diplomats say they have no doubt it is using their cases to pressure Canada.

Detained for months

In March, China accused the two of involvement in stealing state secrets.

Meng, 47, is the daughter of Huawei Technologies Co Ltd’s billionaire founder, Ren Zhengfei.

She was arrested at Vancouver’s airport on a U.S. warrant and is fighting extradition on charges that she conspired to defraud global banks about Huawei’s relationship with a company operating in Iran.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order barring U.S. firms from using telecom equipment made by companies deemed to pose a national security risk. The order did not specifically identify any country or company, but U.S. officials have previously labelled Huawei a “threat” and lobbied allies not to use Huawei network equipment in next-generation 5G networks.

Meng was released from jail in December on $10-million bail and must wear an electronic ankle bracelet and pay for security guards. She has been living in a Vancouver home.

The formal arrests of the Canadians was first reported by the Globe and Mail on Wednesday.

Another Canadian in China, Robert Schellenberg, was sentenced to death in a drug case following Meng’s detention. His case is being appealed. 

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