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Australia ‘concerned’ about 2 Canadians detained in China, foreign minister says

WATCH: Federal government ramping up pressure on the Chinese government to release detained Canadians.

Australia is expressing concerns over the case of two Canadians detained in China, but the country’s reaction hasn’t been as swift or as strong as some of Canada’s other allies.

A statement from Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne on Sunday came after group of scholars wrote a letter asking Australia to call for the immediate release of the two men.

READ MORE: France, New York Times editorial board are the latest to condemn China over detained Canadians

Earlier this month, two Canadians living in China, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig — a businessman and an ex-diplomat, respectively — were detained by Chinese authorities on suspicion of endangering national security.

“The Australian Government is concerned about the recent detention of two Canadian citizens in China,” Payne said.  “We would be very concerned if these cases were related to legal proceedings currently underway in Canada involving a Chinese citizen, Ms. Meng Wanzhou.”

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READ MORE: Justin Trudeau says people around the world ‘extremely disturbed’ by detention of Canadians in China

Meng, the chief financial officer of China’s Huawei Technologies, was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1 on behalf of American authorities. She is currently out on bail, but faces possible extradition to the U.S. over allegations of fraud and violation of U.S. sanctions on Iran.

China has been outspoken about the arrest, which was described as “basically kidnapping” in state media.

The Canadian government has said its two citizens are being detained arbitrarily.

WATCH: China questions Britain, EU over support for Canada’s detention concerns, accuses them of hypocrisy

China questions Britain, EU over support for Canada’s detention concerns, accuses them of hypocrisy
China questions Britain, EU over support for Canada’s detention concerns, accuses them of hypocrisy

In her statement on Sunday, Payne said she has “every confidence in the fairness and independence of Canada’s administration of justice.”

She did not directly call for the release of the detainees, despite recent pressure from a group of scholars and analysts.

Three dozen individuals, who were identified as experts on China and foreign policy at Australian universities and other institutions, have signed an open letter on the issue.

READ MORE: Chinese official slams Huawei exec’s arrest in response to question about Canadian detentions

“We are deeply concerned about the recent detentions of Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in the People’s Republic of China. We ask the Australian Government without further delay to support Canada’s call for the immediate release of these two detainees,” it stated.

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Several of Canada’s allies, including the EU, the U.S. and the U.K., have already spoken out.

WATCH: China accuses Canadian allies of hypocrisy in Huawei CFO arrest

China accuses Canadian allies of hypocrisy in Huawei CFO arrest
China accuses Canadian allies of hypocrisy in Huawei CFO arrest

The U.S. State Department called for the Canadians’ release on Dec. 21 and expressed “deep concern” over the detentions.

“We share Canada’s commitment to the rule of law as fundamental to all free societies, and we will defend and uphold this principle,” the agency said in a statement.

A statement from the EU said, “the declared motive for their investigation raises concerns about legitimate research and business practices in China.”

“The denial of access to a lawyer under their status of detention is contrary to the right of defence. The EU fully supports the efforts of the Canadian Government on this matter.”