BEIJING — China has formally arrested two Canadian citizens it’s been holding since December in an apparent effort to pressure Canada into releasing a Chinese telecom executive.
The move brings the two men, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, closer to trial on vaguely defined state security charges.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says the government is “deeply concerned” about China’s decision. He calls the move an “arbitrary action” and adds that Canada will continue to demand the appropriate treatment of Kovrig and Spavor.
“In the case of the two Michaels, they should be released. We believe that very strongly,” Goodale said. “There is no evidence that has been produced that would indicate any validity to the allegations made against them.”
China defends its actions
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson says Kovrig and Spavor have been arrested on suspicion of gathering and stealing state secrets for “foreign forces.”
“China has taken compulsory measures on the two Canadians in accordance with law and the Chinese procuratorial organ has lawfully approved their arrest,” Lu Kang said, according to an English statement posted to the ministry’s website.
“The actions we have taken are entirely law-based. We hope the Canadian side does not make irresponsible remarks on it.”
Lu would not say where they are now being held.
Watch: See how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first responded to the arrest of a Canadian in China. Story continues below.
“Today I can still responsibly reassure you that the Chinese procuratorial organ handles the case in accordance with law. Their lawful rights and interests are fully guaranteed,” he added.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Thursday that Kovrig and Spavor have been arrested for allegedly stealing state secrets, but gave no other details.
Global Affairs Canada also confirmed the arrest, while reiterating Canada’s demand that the two men be released.
“Canada strongly condemns their arbitrary arrest as we condemned their arbitrary detention on Dec. 10,” Global Affairs spokeswoman Brittany Fletcher said in a statement.
“Canadian consular officials have made recent consular visits to the two men and will continue to provide consular services to them and their families.”
Kovrig is a former Canadian diplomat and expert at the International Crisis Group, and Spavor is a businessman with lengthy experience in North Korea. Both are being held in detention facilities and have yet to be granted access to lawyers.
They were arrested on Dec. 10, 2018, after Meng Wanzhou, a senior executive with telecom giant Huawei, was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1, 2018, at the request of U.S. authorities who want her extradited to face fraud charges.
Meng, the daughter of Huawei’s founder, is accused of lying to banks about the company’s dealings with Iran in violation of U.S. trade sanctions. Her attorney has argued that comments by U.S. President Donald Trump suggest the case against her is politically motivated.
Meng is free on bail and a judge this month granted her request to move into a larger Vancouver multimillion-dollar home that recently underwent renovation. The judge also ruled that she will hear arguments on evidence disclosure in late September and October.
A decision on whether Meng is extradited to the U.S. could take years.
With files from The Associated Press