U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says Canada and the U.S. need to continue pushing back against China and its arbitrary detention of two Canadian citizens, who have been imprisoned there without access to lawyers for more than a year.
China detained Michael Kovrig, a Canadian diplomat on leave at the time, and Michael Spavor, an entrepreneur, in December 2018 just days after Canada detained Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou at the behest of American authorities, who requested her arrest under the extradition treaty between Canada and the U.S.
The arrests of Kovrig and Spavor are widely viewed as retaliation by China for Meng’s arrest.
American authorities charged Meng and her company in the month following her arrest with 23 counts of allegedly skirting sanctions on Iran and stealing corporate secrets. She has been on house arrest in Vancouver ever since with full access to her legal team.
Pompeo tweeted on Monday night that he had spoken with Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne earlier that day about what Canada and the U.S. can do to fight back against what he called “coercive” measures taken by China.
A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department also put out a statement around the same time, saying: “The United States stands with Canada in calling on Beijing for the immediate release of the two men and rejects the use of these unjustified detentions to coerce Canada.”
Several hours earlier, Champagne had posted a tweet of his own, but it included few details of the conversation as it related to China.
Champagne’s tweet made no direct mention of the two detained Canadians.
When asked whether the Canadian government had requested the Americans include a mention of the detained Canadians in their tweet, a Canadian official said no.
“The U.S. put that in of their own volition, as they have done previously,” the official said.
Both tweets came after the Chinese embassy in Ottawa issued a statement on Sunday accusing “some Canadian politicians” of making what it claims are “erroneous remarks” about its arrests of the two Canadians.
Just days before, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had given an interview to the French-language news network TVA.
In that interview, Trudeau said he had asked the U.S. not to sign any free trade deal with China until it released Kovrig and Spavor.
The U.S. reached a tentative deal with China earlier this month but has yet to sign it.
Canadian members of Parliament also voted two weeks ago to create a special committee to examine all aspects of Canada’s relationship with China.
The Liberal minority government had tried to block that motion from the Conservatives, but it passed with support from the other parties.
That committee is not expected to get underway until the House of Commons resumes in the new year.