On December 13th, China confirmed the arrest of two Canadian citizens, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang said during a press conference.
Both Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been accused of endangering Chinese national security. When Lu Kang was asked regarding their accusations his response was the following:
“The information I have is that on December 10, the Beijing State Security Bureau and the State Security Bureau of Dandong City, Liaoning Province have respectively taken compulsory measures on Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in accordance with the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China and the Criminal Procedure Law of the People’s Republic of China on suspicion of engaging in activities that harm China’s state security. These cases are still under investigation. The Beijing State Security Bureau and the Liaoning State Security Department have respectively informed the Canadian Embassy in China of these cases. The legitimate rights of these two people are guaranteed.”
Furthermore, there were questions regarding both Canadians’ work with being related to North Korea. Kang refused to provide any detail if whether the “endangerment of Chinese national security” was somehow related to North Korea.
He was, expectedly, also asked if the investigations and detainment of the two Canadians is related to Canada’s arrest of Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou.
“As for Canada’s wrongful detention of Ms. Meng Wanzhou, we have made clear our position. As for these two Canadian citizens who have been taken compulsory measures by China’s state security authorities, I can assure you that the Chinese side will act in accordance with laws and regulations,” Kang said.
To the question whether China would release the two Canadian citizens if Meng Wanzhou was released, Kang was adamant in China’s position that the Canadians were lawfully arrested, while Wanzhou was detained wrongfully:
“I have made my points pretty clear. On the case of Meng Wanzhou which is a wrong move made by the Canadian side, we ask the Canadian side to immediately correct its mistake and release Ms. Meng Wanzhou. As for the cases involving two Canadian citizens, I have already told you that China’s state security authorities have taken compulsory measures in accordance with law.”
He also repeatedly reiterated that China’s arrests were not politically motivated.
A journalist also claimed that unnamed reports claimed that Canadian business people in China are having difficulties with some of their business dealings with Chinese companies. Kang responded that he had heard no such thing and that “it does not sound like our Chinese people’s way of doing things.”
He avoided every other question regarding the Canadian citizens, saying that they are under investigation and, as a result, most details cannot be revealed as of yet.
Canadian officials said they are aware of the situation and are in dialogue with the Chinese side.
“We are aware of the situation of the Canadian detained in China,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters. “We have been in direct contact with the Chinese diplomats and representatives. We are engaged in a file which we take very seriously and we are of course providing consular assistance to the family.”
Global Affairs Canada spokesman Guillaume Bérubé said no further information can be disclosed “due to provisions of the Privacy Act,” in a statement to the National Post.
Guy Saint-Jacques, who left the post of Canadian ambassador in Beijing just over two years ago, told the Post he worked with Kovrig from 2014 to 2016. According to him Kovrig would be charged with espionage over political research he did for the Canadian Embassy in Beijing, which included speaking with political dissidents.
“Michael’s work was doing detailed political reporting. We created a special program at Global Affairs about 15 years ago to deepen it, and with that, the idea was to ask an officer to look at fewer files, give him a budget. Michael travelled quite a bit in China, he travelled to Xinjiang a number of times and did some great reporting. But of course in China, the line between doing good political reporting and espionage can be very tiny.”
The other arrested Canadian is Michael Spavor, the founder of a Paektu Cultural Exchange, focused on opening up international ties with North Korea.
“Based in China and Canada, Paektu promotes travel to North Korea, including a five-day trip to Pyongyang for 2019 New Year celebrations with visits to hot springs and the de-militarized zone.”
Despite China’s denial of any such claims, many speculate that the arrests are in retaliation of Canada arresting a Chinese citizen.
Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada on December 1st, after the US accused her of breaching the US sanctions on Iran.
Trump admitted that Wanzhou’s deportation to the US and her release could be used as a bargaining chip in the US-China trade war.
On December 8th, Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng summoned Canadian Ambassador to China John McCallum. The purpose was “to lodge solemn representations and strong protests against the detention.” Le also strongly urged Canada to release Wenzhou, otherwise “it will definitely have grave consequences, and the Canadian side will have to bear the full responsibility for it.”
On the following day, Le Yucheng urgently summoned the US Ambassador to China Terry Branstad to once more express China’s condemnation of Wanzhou’s arrest.
Le also pointed that what the US side had done “severely violates Chinese citizen’s legitimate rights and interests, and is vile in nature.” And reiterated that China urges the US to immediately undertake corrective actions and rectify the situation.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and Canadian Minister of Defense Harjit S. Sajjan are to hold a bilateral meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis on December 14th. It is expected that the main topics discussed would be the detainment of Meng Wanzhou by Canada and the detainment of the two Canadian citizens by China.