Detention of two Canadians in China lawful, says Beijing

Relations between Beijing and Ottawa have spiralled since China detained two Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP) - China's detention of two Canadians for two years on spying charges is lawful, Beijing said on Thursday (Dec 10) when asked whether the pair would be freed if a Chinese tech boss held in Vancouver returns home.

Relations between Beijing and Ottawa have spiralled since China detained former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor in 2018.

The pair's arrest came days after Chinese executive Meng Wanzhou from tech giant Huawei Technologies was detained in Vancouver on a US warrant.

Charges against the two Canadians, who have been accused of espionage, are widely perceived in the West as retaliation for Meng's arrest, although China denies these allegations.

On Thursday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying told a regular media briefing that "the nature of both cases is different", saying that Meng's case was "a purely political incident".

Ms Hua said: "In the two Canadians' cases, they were suspected of endangering China's national security."

Chinese authorities, therefore, arrested and prosecuted them, she added. "This was a purely lawful incident."

Beijing's response comes just a week after reports said the US government was discussing a deal with Huawei that could see Meng be allowed to return to China.

Meng has been fighting extradition to the United States over charges that Huawei violated American sanctions on Iran.

Thursday marks two years since Kovrig and Spavor were detained.

The International Crisis Group, a think tank, where Kovrig worked as an adviser, called his detention "a case of politically motivated hostage diplomacy that is doing profound damage to China's worldwide reputation".

The group said: "Since his detention, Michael (Kovrig) has had virtually no contact with the outside world; he has not seen his family, loved ones or friends."

"His sole offence was to be a Canadian citizen who was at the wrong place at the wrong time."

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