On Saturday, the Chinese embassy in Canada released an online statement condemning the “irresponsible remarks” and “distorted reports” made by the Canadian government about China’s detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
Earlier this month, Chinese prosecutors charged former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessperson Michael Spavor over espionage allegations, accusing the two of “stealing and spying on sensitive Chinese information and intelligence.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded to the development last Monday, denouncing China’s “[use] of arbitrary detentions as a means to advance political gains.”
“It has been obvious from the beginning that this was a political decision made by the Chinese government and we deplore it and have from the very beginning,” said Trudeau in a news conference.
The 2018 arrest of the Canadian detainees – known by many as the “Two Michaels” – was widely viewed as a retaliatory act by China for the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer (CFO) of Chinese telecoms company Huawei. Meng was detained by Canadian authorities on a United States extradition warrant during a flight stopover at Vancouver airport in December 2018.
Meng stands accused of circumventing US sanctions against Iran and lying to authorities about Huawei’s business dealings.
In the statement released on Saturday, the Chinese embassy demanded that the Canadian government end their “Megaphone Diplomacy” and stop pressuring Beijing about their handling of the cases of the two Canadians.
“The facts are clear and evidence is solid and sufficient,” the statement read. “The accusation of so-called “arbitrarily” detaining Canadian citizens is totally groundless. Chinese judicial organs will continue to handle the above cases strictly in accordance with law, and protect the two Canadians’ lawful rights.”
The statement then proceeded to accuse Canada of being complicit in the US’ efforts to stifle Chinese tech ambitions, saying that Meng’s arrest was a “grave political incident concocted by the United States to suppress Chinese high-tech enterprises and Huawei … This is really arbitrary detention.”
Meanwhile, Trudeau is facing increasing domestic pressure to secure the release of the two Michaels and end the extradition process that would officially hand Meng over to the US.
Last Tuesday, a letter was written by 19 former Canadian high-profile politicians which urged Trudeau to end Meng’s extradition and “clear the way for Canada to freely decide and declare its position on all aspects of the China-Canada relationship.”
The letter acknowledged that such a move would “irritate” the US but labeled it the “safer choice” to stand by their long-term ally. The group of 19 also stressed the importance of securing the release of the two Canadian men.
“Their detention was completely unlawful and unjustified. Reliable accounts describe their conditions of confinement as tantamount to torture,” read the letter.
“We contend that the time is past due for the Minister to do just that: to end the Meng extradition proceeding and to bring the Two Michaels home.”
While the cases of the “Two Michaels” and Meng were previously said to be unrelated, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian suggested in a news conference last Wednesday that Meng’s release could help the cases of Kovrig and Spavor.
Citing knowledge that the Canadian justice minister had the authority to stop Meng’s extradition process at any point, Zhao said that “such options are within the rule of law and could open up space for resolution to the situation of the two Canadians.”
However, Trudeau has rejected such calls to halt the extradition proceedings, even if it does help the two Michaels.
“If countries around the world, including China, realize that by arbitrarily arresting random Canadians they can get what they want out of Canada, politically, well that makes an awful lot more Canadians who travel around the world vulnerable,” Trudeau told reporters last Thursday.
“We need to continue to be absolutely crystal clear that Canada has an independent judiciary and those processes will unfold independently of any political pressure – including by foreign governments,” he continued.
“We will continue to remain steadfast and strong and say very clearly in our actions and in our words that randomly arresting Canadians doesn’t give you leverage over the government of Canada anywhere in the world.”
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