Friends of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig tell Global News they can’t understand how the two men, arrested separately in China, could pose threats to Chinese national security.
University of Ottawa associate professor Costanza Musu calls Kovrig a close friend. She’s known him for more than a decade.
“The International Crisis Group is a highly regarded NGO that he works for and that he provides analysis for as a senior analyst. They don’t engage in any non-transparent activity at all,” Musu told Global News.
“In no capacity would he really have done anything of the sort that would endanger Chinese security.”
WATCH: China says 2 Canadians were placed in detention on suspicion of ‘endangering national security’
On Thursday, Chinese government officials confirmed the two Canadians are being detained over national security concerns. They added that the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver was a mistake and called for her immediate release.
Musu said Kovrig has always had a passion for global politics and developed a love for China while working for Global Affairs Canada. She says he spent months and months learning Mandarin to prepare for a diplomatic posting in that country.
Kovrig took a leave from Global Affairs at the end of 2016 because he wanted to keep living and working in the region, she said. Musu doesn’t see how a person with such an extensive understanding and appreciation of China — as well as extensive connections with Chinese officials — could be seen as endangering national security.
Kovrig is based in Hong Kong, but Musu believes he was on a trip to Beijing to see friends and contacts when the arrest occurred.
“We just don’t know exactly where he is or why he’s being detained so not knowing the reasons make it very difficult for everyone who knows him to figure out what’s best to do,” Musu said.
On the other side of the country, Vancouver lawyer Shaun Driver is also worried about his friend.
Spavor took Driver to North Korea in 2011.
“He connects people to the culture in North Korea and he gives you an opportunity and he opens up a window for people who are interested to understand it, to go and do it,” Driver told Global News.
“I don’t get how he’s a national security threat.”
Calgary-born Spavor founded the Paektu Cultural Exchange, which focuses on making connections in North Korea. He facilitated former NBA star Dennis Rodman’s visits there in 2013 and 2014, and his Facebook page shows Spavor in photos with leader Kim Jong Un.
“I’ve considered him to be the greatest unknown Canadian,” said Driver.
“You have this guy who has all these connections in North Korea, he’s building bridges and trying to resolve things on a grassroots level, and I always respected that.”