China suspects detained Canadian of spying as diplomatic row heats up

(From left) Meng Wanzhou has filed a suit against Canada; while Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are being detained in China on spying charges.
Meng Wanzhou (above) has filed a suit against Canada; while Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are being detained in China on spying charges.
(From left) Meng Wanzhou has filed a suit against Canada; while Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are being detained in China on spying charges.
Meng Wanzhou has filed a suit against Canada; while Canadians Michael Kovrig (above) and Michael Spavor are being detained in China on spying charges.
(From left) Meng Wanzhou has filed a suit against Canada; while Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are being detained in China on spying charges.
Meng Wanzhou has filed a suit against Canada; while Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor (above) are being detained in China on spying charges.

BEIJING • China suspects detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig of spying and stealing state secrets, state media reported yesterday, turning up the heat in a diplomatic row between Beijing and Ottawa, as a top Huawei executive held in Canada faces possible extradition to the US.

Another Canadian in Chinese detention - businessman Michael Spavor - was one of Mr Kovrig's main sources of intelligence, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing the authorities.

The pair were detained last December in what observers see as retaliation just days after Canada arrested Chinese telecom giant Huawei's chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, at the request of the United States.

The Chinese authorities had previously said the two Canadians were being investigated on suspicion of endangering national security.

Spying charges could expose them to tough prison sentences.

Mr Kovrig, who now works for the International Crisis Group think-tank, had often entered China using a non-diplomatic passport and business visas and has been gathering intelligence since 2017, Xinhua said.

The new allegations come three days after Canada launched the extradition process against Meng, angering Beijing, which called the action a "severe political incident".

Meng is expected to appear in court in Vancouver tomorrow to schedule a date for her extradition hearing.

The US wants to put her on trial for violating American sanctions against Iran and lying to US banks about it.

Ottawa has said the two Canadian citizens were "arbitrarily" detained and that interrogations of Mr Kovrig breached the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations - allegations Beijing flatly rejected.

A group of Canadian parliamentarians had earlier complained to the Chinese authorities that Mr Kovrig and Mr Spavor had been denied access to lawyers, and remain in "completely unacceptable" detention conditions.

"China's approach is no different from the rest of the world in dealing with such cases involving national security cases," Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a regular briefing yesterday.

China will handle their case in "strict accordance with the law, guarantee the legitimate rights of Kovrig and Spavor", and arrange for consular visits, a report by a Communist Party organ overseeing state and public security said.

Reuters reported yesterday that Huawei is preparing to announce that it is suing the US government in a court in Texas on Thursday, by challenging an addition to the US National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) signed last year.

The new NDAA, which Beijing had condemned as targeting China, controls US government contracts with Chinese companies, including Huawei, and strengthens the role of the panel that reviews foreign investment proposals.

Meanwhile, Meng, 47, has filed a suit against the Canadian authorities for violating her constitutional rights when she was detained at Vancouver International Airport.

Her lawyers charge impropriety in the conditions under which Meng was interrogated for three hours by Canadian Customs officers, officially as part of a routine inspection, before being served with her arrest warrant.

Meng, the daughter of Huawei's founder Ren Zhengfei, was released on parole in mid-December in Vancouver, where she owns two residences, on a bond deposit of C$10 million (S$10.2 million). She is subject to electronic tagging and has handed over her passports.

The extradition procedure can take months or even years because of the many appeal possibilities.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 05, 2019, with the headline 'China suspects detained Canadian of spying as diplomatic row heats up'. Print Edition | Subscribe