China charges Canadians with spying, leaves Trudeau ‘disappointed’

BEIJING/OTTAWA: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday he is “disappointed” that China has formally charged two Canadians with spying, more than 18 months after they were arrested amid a row between Beijing and Ottawa.

Former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor were detained in December 2018, nine days after Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada on a US warrant, in what was seen as tit-for-tat retaliation.

“We’re of course disappointed with the decision taken by the Chinese in the case of the two Michaels,” Trudeau said, while renewing calls for their release.

His deputy, Chrystia Freeland, said she was “heartbroken and really an­gry” over the charges, adding that it was “essential” for China to immediately restore consular access for the pair.

The Supreme People’s Procur­atorate said it has begun the prosecution of Kovrig and Spavor, who were “suspected of foreign espionage” and “providing state secrets.” The move follows a key decision in the Meng case in which a Canadian judge ruled that proceedings to extradite her to the United States will go ahead.

The United States wants Meng extradited to face trial on fraud charges related to the Chinese telecom equipment maker’s alleged violations of US sanctions against Iran.

Diplomatic relations between Canada and China have hit rock bottom over the arrests, damaging trade between the countries.

China’s embassy in Ottawa accused the United States of trying “to bring down Huawei.” China has also blocked billions of dollars’ worth of Canadian agricultural exports.

Trudeau said that Chinese authorities have “directly linked the case of the two Michaels to the judicial proceedings against Miss Meng.” He called this “extremely disappointing because, for us, there obviously are no links, except in politics.” He vowed with allies to “put pressure on the Chinese government to cease the arbitrary detention of these two Canadian citizens who are being held for no other reason than (that) the Chinese government is disappointed with the independent proceedings of the Canadian judiciary.”

While Meng, the eldest daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, has been out on bail and living in a mansion in Vancouver, the two Canadians remain in China’s opaque penal system.

Monthly consular visits for Kovrig and Spavor had been suspended since the coronavirus outbreak started in China, Trudeau said in April, amid concerns over their well-being.

Beijing confirmed that these were still suspended and would not resume until the virus situation had improved.

China’s foreign ministry has previously insisted the pair are in good health and that their detention facility is “in a region that is not particularly affected by Covid-19.” However, people familiar with the matter said the two have endured hours of interrogation and during the first six months of detention were forced to sleep with the lights on.

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