Former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig detained in China after arrest of Huawei CFO Sabrina Meng Wanzhou in Canada

  • Move comes after police in Canada arrested Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of China’s Huawei Technologies, on December 1 at the request of US authorities
  • It’s not yet clear what reasons have been given for Kovrig’s detention
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 December, 2018, 9:52pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 December, 2018, 8:36pm

A former Canadian diplomat has been detained in China at the same time as a Canadian court weighs whether to grant bail to a top Chinese technology executive who is being held in Vancouver pending a US extradition request.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) confirmed in a statement on Tuesday that it was “aware of reports that its North East Asia Senior Adviser, Michael Kovrig, has been detained in China”.

“We are doing everything possible to secure additional information on Michael’s whereabouts as well as his prompt and safe release,” the statement said. The release did not indicate the reasons for Kovrig’s detention.

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A person familiar with the matter says Kovrig was detained on Monday night in Beijing during one of his regular visits to the city. The person spoke on condition of anonymity due to a lack of authorisation to speak publicly on the matter.

In an interview with The Star, Guy Saint-Jacques, the previous Canadian ambassador to China, said that Kovrig is on an unpaid leave of absence – meaning that he still has diplomatic status.

The news of Kovrig’s detainment came as a court in Vancouver is set to decide whether to grant bail for Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of China’s telecommunications giant, Huawei Technologies.

Meng was arrested at the Vancouver airport on December 1 at the US government’s request, which accused Meng of violating US sanctions against Iran.

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The daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhenfei was changing planes while in transit from Hong Kong to Mexico when she was detained. Tuesday marks the third day of her bail hearings.

Meng’s arrest angered Beijing. Over the weekend, Vice-Foreign Minister Le Yucheng summoned Canadian Ambassador John McCallum on Saturday night to lodge a “strong protest” and warned Ottawa of “grave consequences” from Meng’s arrest. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the matter is one for the courts to decide.

Canadian businesses operating in China are starting to feel the chill and the signing of one major deal has been postponed, a well-placed source said.

“The consequences have already begun,” said the source, noting that a Canadian firm had been due to ink a major agreement in the next few weeks.

“The local partner, a Chinese private sector actor, has told the Canadian partner that now is not a good time to sign,” said the source, who asked to remain anonymous given the sensitivity of the matter.

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Canada’s Global Affairs Department said on Tuesday that it had raised the case of a Canadian citizen detained in China with the Chinese government. It declined to say more or state his name.

In a statement it said that it was “seized with this case” and is providing consular assistance to the family of the Canadian.

Kovrig’s detention follows Chinese warnings to Canada of consequences for its recent arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at Vancouver’s airport.

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Kovrig, who has written opinion pieces for the South China Morning Post, has been a full-time expert for the ICG since February 2017. The Belgium-based non-profit organisation works to "prevent wars and shape policies that will build a more peaceful world", according to its website.

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Kovrig served as the ICG’s senior adviser for North East Asia, conducting research and providing analysis on foreign affairs and global security issues in North East Asia, particularly on China, Japan and the Korean peninsula.

Additional reporting by Associated Press and Reuters