China confirms Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor arrested amid Huawei row

Former diplomat and businessman were detained on Monday as Canada considers extraditing Chinese executive to the US

Chinese police patrol in front of the Canadian embassy in Beijing on December 13, 2018. A second Canadian who had gone missing in China is under investigation on suspicion of "engaging in activities that harm China's national security", state media reported on December 13. Security has been stepped up outside the embassy since Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, was arrested in Canada, at Washington's request. / AFP / GREG BAKER
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China confirmed on Thursday that it has detained two Canadian men, raising the stakes in a three-way dispute over a Chinese technology executive facing possible extradition from Canada to the United States.

Entrepreneur Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig were taken into custody on Monday on suspicion of "engaging in activities that endanger the national security" of China, said foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang.

Mr Lu said Canada was informed 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 Mr Kovrig was detained, and the north-eastern city of Dandong, where Mr Spavor lived.

"The legal rights of the two Canadians are being safeguarded," he told reporters at a daily briefing.

The arrests put pressure on Canada, which is holding Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies. She was arrested December 1 at the request of the United States, which wants her extradited to face bank fraud charges.

Canadian officials have been unable to contact Mr Spavor "since he let us know he was being questioned by Chinese authorities", said Canada's global affairs spokesman Guillaume Berube. "We are working very hard to ascertain his whereabouts and we continue to raise this with the Chinese government."

Mr Kovrig is an analyst on north-east Asia for the International Crisis Group think tank who took a leave of absence from the Canadian government. He lives in Hong Kong.

Mr Spavor runs tours of North Korea along with sports, business and other exchanges through his company, Paektu Cultural Exchange. He has met leader Kim Jong-un and was instrumental in bringing former NBA star Dennis Rodman to the North's capital, Pyongyang, in 2013.

Acquaintances said Mr Spavor was expected in Seoul on Monday but failed to arrive in the South Korean capital.


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The detentions echo that of another Canadian, Kevin Garratt, who was detained in 2014 in what was seen as retaliation for Canada's arrest of a suspected Chinese spy wanted in the United States. Garratt was held for 750 days in 2014-16 and sentenced to eight years in prison on spying charges but then deported.

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.

Ms Meng was arrested while changing planes in Vancouver but has been released on bail.

The US accuses Huawei of using a Hong Kong shell company to deceive banks and do business with Iran in violation of US sanctions.

China earlier warned of unspecified dire consequences if Ms Meng was not released.

The editor-in-chief of the Global Times, a Communist Party-run tabloid known for its provocative views, warned in a video on Wednesday night of "retaliatory measures" if Canada did not free the Huawei executive.

"If Canada extradites Meng to the US, China's revenge will be far worse than detaining a Canadian," said Hu Xijin, 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 said.

The United States and China have emphasised that trade talks are separate from Ms Meng's case, although President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he would intervene if it would help produce a deal.

"If I think it's good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made — which is a very important thing — what's good for national security — I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary," Mr Trump told Reuters.

The suggestion Ms Meng could be a political pawn makes the situation more awkward for Canada.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau bristled at Mr Trump's assertion, saying: "Regardless of what goes on in other countries, Canada is, and will always remain, a country of the rule of law."

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said it was "quite obvious" any foreign country requesting extradition should ensure "the process is not politicised".

"Trump's remarks could be interpreted as creating the appearance that the arrest also had political motivations," said Gregory Yaeger of the Stroock law firm and a former Justice Department lawyer.

"This could undermine the US's reputation as a country that follows the rule of law, and could ultimately undermine both the Meng prosecution and the trade talks."

Earlier this year, Mr Trump drew fire for intervening on behalf of Huawei's smaller Chinese rival, ZTE, after the company was barred from buying US technology over exports to Iran and North Korea.

Mr Trump restored access after ZTE agreed to pay a $1bn fine, change its board and executives and install a team of US-selected compliance managers.

Also on Thursday, Ministry of Commerce spokesman said Chinese and US officials were in "close contact" over the trade dispute but gave no date for face-to-face talks.

Asked whether a Chinese delegation would go to Washington, spokesman Gao Feng said, "China welcomes the US side to come to China for consultations, and also is open to communicating with the United States."

Mr Gao said the two sides had reached a "common understanding" on agricultural products, energy and automobiles, which the two sides previously announced. He said additional details would be announced later.


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