China has accused two detained Canadians of acting together to steal state secrets, days after Canada announced it will proceed with a US extradition request for a senior Chinese tech executive.
China arrested the two Canadians on December 10 in what was widely seen as an attempt to pressure Canada to release Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese tech giant Huawei, who was arrested in Vancouver on December 1 at the request of US authorities.
Meng’s arrest set off a diplomatic outcry and has severely strained Canadian relations with China.
The US is seeking the extradition of Meng, the daughter of Huawei’s founder, to face charges that she misled banks about the company’s business with Iran.
China’s official Xinhua News Agency cited unidentified Chinese authorities as saying former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig violated Chinese laws by acting as a spy and stealing state secrets and intelligence with the help of Canadian businessman Michael Spavor.
It is the first time the two men’s cases have been linked.
It said Kovrig often entered China using an ordinary passport and business visas, and acquired information from Spavor, his “main contact”.
“Authorities stressed that China is a country ruled by law and will firmly crack down on criminal acts that severely undermine national security,” Xinhua said.
The same information was posted on the official news blog of the ruling Communist Party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission.
No other details were given and Xinhua said further judicial proceedings would “take place based on the case’s progress”.
“We are obviously very concerned by this position that China has taken,” Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said. “It is unfortunate that China continues to move forward on these arbitrary detentions.”
Kovrig is a former diplomat who was working as an expert on Asia for the International Crisis Group think tank.
Spavor is an entrepreneur known for contacts with high-ranking North Korean officials, including leader Kim Jong Un.
After Meng’s arrest, a Chinese court sentenced a Canadian to death in a sudden retrial, overturning a 15-year prison term handed down earlier.
Kovrig and Spavor have not had access to a lawyer or to their families since being arrested.
Canada said on Friday that it will allow the US extradition request for Meng to proceed.
She is due in court on Wednesday to set a date for the extradition proceedings to start. It could be several months or even years before her case is resolved.
The US has been lobbying its allies to shun Huawei’s products on national security grounds, saying Chinese law requires the company to provide the government with intelligence on its foreign clients whenever requested.
A Chinese government spokesman hit back at the US claims that Huawei poses a threat to other countries’ information security.
Zhang Yesui said US officials were taking China’s national security law out of context and “playing up the so-called security risks”.
The 2017 law borrows from other countries’ experiences and is designed explicitly to “protect human rights and the lawful rights of individuals and organisations”, he said.
“This kind of behaviour is interference into economic activities by political means and is against World Trade Organisation rules. It disrupts an international market order that is built on fair competition.
“This is a typical case of double standards that is neither fair nor ethical.”
Lawyers for Meng, who is staying at a property she owns in Vancouver after her release on bail, said she is suing the Canadian government, its border agency and the national police force, alleging she was detained, searched and interrogated before she was told she was under arrest.