US to help free Canadian detainees amid Huawei extradition row, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says

  • Tensions among the three countries rise with Sabrina Meng Wanzhou’s arrest in Vancouver, at the US’ request
  • ‘We ask all nations of the world to treat other citizens properly,’ Pompeo says after detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 December, 2018, 4:39am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 December, 2018, 11:03pm

The United States will help achieve the release of two Canadian nationals detained in China as tensions among the three countries rise amid the arrest – at the US’ request – of Huawei CFO Sabrina Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday.

Calling the Canadians’ arrests unlawful, Pompeo said: “We ask all nations of the world to treat other citizens properly, and the detention of these two Canadian citizens in China ought to end.”

Meng was arrested at the US’ behest on December 1 over allegations she committed financial fraud with the aim of skirting US sanctions on sales to Iran. Chinese authorities seized the two Canadians this week for allegedly “endangering national security”.

One, former diplomat Michael Kovrig, was held on Monday night by Beijing’s state security bureau. In the days since his arrest, the foreign ministry has said Kovrig, now a senior adviser with the International Crisis Group, might have also broken China’s NGO law if he did work for the group while in the country.

On Thursday, authorities confirmed that a second Canadian national, businessman Michael Spavor, had been detained by Liaoning’s provincial state security bureau.

A North Korea specialist, Spavor once met leader Kim Jong-un and runs an NGO that arranges cultural exchanges with the hermit kingdom.

Canada granted access to ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig, held by China

Pompeo said the detention of nationals abroad was something that “weighs on those of us who serve to try to make sure that our citizens do have the opportunity to return home to their families”.

“We always believe in that, we’ll always work on it, and we’ll do it in this case as well,” he said.

Pompeo spoke at a press conference in Washington with his Canadian counterpart Chrystia Freeland, Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and US Defence Secretary James Mattis.

Before the two Canadians’ detention, China’s vice-foreign minister Le Yucheng had warned Ottawa that it would face “grave consequences” if it did not release Meng, fuelling suspicion that the recent arrests were punitive in nature.

China says Canada has ignited ‘public anger’ with Sabrina Meng arrest

Yet a Thursday editorial in China Daily, the Communist Party’s foreign-facing mouthpiece newspaper, rejected claims that the recent arrests were retaliatory.

“Washington naturally assumes the compulsory measures Beijing has taken are politically motivated – an expedient move on Beijing’s part to retaliate against Ottawa – since that is how [Washington] operates,” the editorial said.

Freeland said that in conversations with the Canadian government, Chinese officials, including China’s ambassador to Canada, Lu Shaye, did not connect the different issues.

“From Canada’s perspective, these kinds of issues ought never to be confused with one another,” she said.

Huawei CFO Sabrina Meng’s arrest: why it’s not all bad

US President Donald Trump blurred the line between political and judicial matters on Tuesday when he told Reuters he would consider intervening in Meng’s case if the move would benefit ongoing trade negotiations between Washington and Beijing.

That suggestion sent shock waves through Washington, with Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday calling Trump’s remarks “deeply disturbing”.

Freeland said on Friday that it was “very important for Canada that extradition agreements are not used for political purposes. Canada does not do it that way.

“And I believe it is obvious that democratic countries, such as our partner, the US, do the same.”

Cheers in court as judge frees Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou on US$7.5m bail

It was reported widely on Friday that Canadian consular staff in China had been granted access to Kovrig in detention. Freeland said that details of the visit by Canada’s ambassador to China, John McCallum, had been shared with Kovrig’s family, but she declined to disclose more information, citing the need to respect Kovrig’s privacy.

She said that in the cases of both men, the Canadian government’s “immediate concern has been to gain consular access to them and to understand what the charges are being put on them by the Chinese authorities”.