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China confirms detention of 2 Canadians as tensions rise between countries

The two cases ratchet up pressure on Canada, which is holding Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies.

Michael Spavor - one of the Canadian men detained by China.
Michael Spavor - one of the Canadian men detained by China.
Image: AP/PA Images

CHINA HAS CONFIRMED it has detained two Canadian men, raising the stakes in a three-way international dispute over the case of a Chinese telecoms executive facing possible extradition from Canada to the United States.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said entrepreneur Michael Spavor and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig were taken into custody on Monday on suspicion of “engaging in activities that endanger the national security” of China.

Lu said Canada was informed about the detentions, but declined to say whether the men have been provided with lawyers.

He said the cases are being handled separately by local bureaus of the national intelligence agency in Beijing, where Kovrig was picked up, and the northeastern city of Dandong, where Spavor had been living.

“The legal rights of the two Canadians are being safeguarded,” Lu told reporters at a daily briefing.

The two cases ratchet up pressure on Canada, which is holding Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies. She was arrested in Vancouver on 1 December but released on bail. The US has requested her extradition to face charges of bank fraud.

Canadian officials have not been able to contact Spavor “since he let us know he was being questioned by Chinese authorities”, Canadian Global Affairs spokesman Guillaume Bérubé said yesterday.

We are working very hard to ascertain his whereabouts and we continue to raise this with the Chinese government.

Hong Kong

Kovrig is an analyst on northeast Asia for the International Crisis Group, a think tank, who took a leave of absence from the Canadian government and is based in Hong Kong.

Spavor runs tours of North Korea along with sports, business and other exchanges through his company, Paektu Cultural Exchange.

He has ties to figures in the North’s government, including leader Kim Jong Un and was instrumental in bringing NBA player Dennis Rodman to the North’s capital Pyongyang in 2013.

Acquaintances said he was due in Seoul, the South Korean capital, on Monday, but never showed up.

The detentions echo that of another Canadian, Keven Garratt, who spent 750 days in detention in 2014-16 and was given an eight-year prison sentence for espionage before being deported.

Garratt’s detention was seen as a tit-for-tat response to Canada’s arrest of Chinese spy who was eventually extradited to the US.

The broadly defined national security charge encompasses both traditional espionage and other forms of information gathering such as interviewing dissidents and contacting non-governmental organisations.

The root of the dispute appears to be Canada’s arrest of Meng while she was changing planes at Vancouver airport. The U.S. accuses Huawei of using a Hong Kong shell company to deceive banks and do business with Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.

China earlier warned of dire consequences if Meng wasn’t released and the editor in chief of the Global Times, a Communist Party-run tabloid known for its provocative views, warned in a video Wednesday night of “retaliatory measures” if Canada doesn’t free Meng.

“If Canada extradites Meng to the U.S., China’s revenge will be far worse than detaining a Canadian,” Hu Xijin said, speaking in English.

Canada has asked China for extra security at its embassy because of protests and anti-Canadian sentiment and has advised foreign service staff to take precautions, a senior Canadian official told reporters.

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Associated Press

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