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Canada again demands that China immediately release two of its citizens

  • Ottawa gratified by support from allies in confrontation with Beijing over the detentions
  • Action by China decried as a ‘worrying precedent’
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 December, 2018, 2:27am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 December, 2018, 3:13am

Canada repeated calls that China immediately release two citizens it claims were arbitrarily detained there, soon after the arrest of a high-profile Chinese businesswoman.

The Canadian government is concerned about the “worrying precedent” the detentions set, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Saturday.

Michael Kovrig, a diplomat on leave from his post in Hong Kong; and Michael Spavor, an entrepreneur who helped organise tourist trips to North Korea, were seized nine days after Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou was taken into custody. Meng is out of jail on bail pending an extradition hearing.

“Canada expects the immediate release of these two Canadians,” Freeland said, noting Chinese officials have not publicly connected the Huawei arrest and the detention of the two citizens. “My key objective here, and the prime minister’s key objective, is to have Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor released.”

“We’re going to keep working with a broad group of allies to raise this issue,” she said, noting that Canadian ambassadors will be reaching out to governments across the world.

She said it was “not only a Canadian issue”.

The two men were detained in China, Canada’s second-largest trading partner, shortly after Meng was arrested in Vancouver, British Columbia, at the request of US authorities earlier this month.

A third Canadian is being held in China, though Canadian officials have said they see no reason to believe there’s a connection to the earlier arrests.

Arrest of Huawei CFO may kill Canada-China trade deal

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is “deeply engaged” in the issue, as is the rest of the government, Freeland said. Ottawa’s working hard on a “number of fronts,” including consulting allies to underscore the depth of its concern, she said.

Freeland’s declarations mark a harsher tone from officials. Trudeau has been criticised by the opposition for his largely muted response and for not phoning his Chinese counterpart.

Detention of foreign nationals should be guided by rule of law, not politics and Canada is abiding by its extradition treaty commitments, with full due process, in its arrest of Meng, Freeland said.

“This has not been a political decision by Canada. This is about the rule of law.”

“In my conversations with Chinese ambassador and in our conversation with Chinese officials, the Chinese officials have not directly made that connection” between Meng’s detention and the arrest of the Canadians, Freeland said.

“It would of course be highly inappropriate for there to be any connection.”

On Friday, the US State Department reiterated a call for the Canadians’ release made by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a statement the UK is confident that Canada is respecting its extradition treaty with the US and said he is “deeply concerned” that China may have detained the two Canadians for political reasons. The EU, meanwhile, issued a statement saying that the “declared motive” for their detention “raises concerns about legitimate research and business practices in China.”

Freeland thanked allies for speaking out.

She added: “This is clearly a difficult moment in our relationship with China.”

Canada’s ambassador to China meets with second detained Canadian

The show of support from allies is significant for Canada, which has felt relatively isolated in recent months. In August, Saudi Arabia expelled Canada’s ambassador to the kingdom and withdrew its own ambassador after Canada’s foreign ministry tweeted support for an arrested Saudi activist.

The Saudis also sold Canadian investments and ordered their citizens studying in Canada to leave. No country, including the US, spoke out publicly in support of Canada.