OTTAWA — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo marked Canada Day Wednesday by accusing the Chinese government of dimming celebrations this year with “trumped-up espionage charges” against two Canadians detained in China.
Pompeo cited the Chinese Communist Party to suggest Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are being detained in retaliation for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.
“Canada’s national day celebrations are dimmed by the CCP’s recent decision to bring trumped-up espionage charges against Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor,” he told White House reporters.
Meng is facing extradition to the U.S. for charges of bank fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud.
She was arrested in December 2018 at Vancouver International Airport. Days after, Kovrig and Spavor were arrested in China.
Pompeo commended the Canadian government for “standing firm” on the independence of its justice system in the extradition case against Meng.
“Hostage-taking for political gains puts China in league with the Irans and Venezuelas of the world,” Pompeo said.
Kovrig and Spavor have been detained by Chinese authorities for nearly 19 months. They were formally charged with espionage last month.
Weeks before the formal charges against the two Canadians, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that the extradition proceeding against Meng would be allowed to proceed, crushing an attempt by the tech executive’s legal team to toss the case.
The U.S. state secretary started his press conference by criticizing China for imposing a new national security law in Hong Kong, making activities perceived as secessionist, subversive, or terrorist illegal, including foreign intervention in the city’s affairs.
Watch: Trudeau not changing his mind on extradition. Story continues below video.
Pompeo’s latest searing comments about China come more a week after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered his own pointed remarks about the circumstances surrounding Kovrig and Spavor’s continued imprisonment.
“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,” he said.
The prime minister’s remarks about the link between the two cases have become increasingly stronger since December 2018. Recently, Trudeau accused China of utilizing arbitrary detentions as “a means to advance political gains.”
Trudeau rejected calls from 19 eminent Canadians in an open letter to release Meng in return for Kovrig and Spavor’s freedom. Signatories including former Liberal justice minister Allan Rock and former Liberal foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy.
Trudeau warned swapping Meng for Kovrig and Spavor would set a bad precedent.
“We cannot allow political pressures or random arrests of Canadian citizens to influence the functioning of our justice system,” the prime minister said Thursday.
Though he respects the individuals who signed the letter, Trudeau said, “they’re wrong in their approach.”
With files from Ryan Maloney