Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says it is clear that China detained Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in an “obvious” attempt to put “political pressure” on Canada for the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou.
During a daily briefing with journalists about the coronavirus pandemic, Trudeau was asked about claims by China that he should “stop making irresponsible remarks” by linking China’s detentions of the two Canadians with the arrest of Meng in December 2018.
The arrests have been widely condemned as arbitrary given the country has no judicial independence.
“It has been obvious since the beginning this was a political decision by the Chinese government, and we deplore it,” Trudeau told reporters on Monday.
“They made those links from the very beginning and continue to put political pressure on Canada through that detention … the using of arbitrary detentions as a means to advance political goals is fully unacceptable in a world based on rules.”
He said it’s also clear China has considerable economic weight and has been using that to try to pressure Canada into releasing Meng through imposing sanctions on some agricultural exports.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also weighed in on the matter on Monday morning, issuing a press release raising concerns that the world has had no update on the condition of Kovrig and Spavor in months and calling for immediate consular access to them.
“The United States is extremely concerned by the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) decision to proceed with formal charges against Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor,” Pompeo said.
“These charges are politically motivated and completely groundless. 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.”
Meng was arrested by Canadian authorities in Vancouver in December 2018 at the behest of American authorities, who charged her and her company the following month with multiple counts related to allegedly skirting U.S. sanctions on Iran and stealing corporate secrets.
Canada and the U.S. have a longstanding extradition treaty, and the U.S. wants Meng extradited to stand trial for the charges laid against her.
Just days following her arrest, China detained Kovrig and Spavor on what are widely viewed as spurious allegations of endangering national security. Beijing formally charged them last week with espionage.
Both have been denied access to lawyers since their detentions began roughly 600 days ago.
Meng is currently on bail living in her Vancouver mansion while Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are detained in a Chinese prison in what officials call “harsh” conditions.
Neither have been allowed consular visits in four months.
In an interview with The West Block in May, Chinese ambassador Cong Peiwu denied the two Canadians were taken as hostages.
“There’s nothing like hostage taking. Those two Canadians are engaged in suspected crimes of endangering Chinese national security, so the competent Chinese authorities are handling the case according to law and I would like to tell you they are in good physical condition,” said Cong.
He then directly raised the case of Meng.
“But I would like to take this opportunity to point out that actually the biggest issue in our bilateral relationship is still Meng Wanzhou’s case, so that’s why we have made our position very clear to make sure that she’s back in China smoothly and safely.”
He refused to answer when asked twice why Kovrig and Spavor have not been allowed video consular calls.
“Madam Meng should not be detained in Vancouver in the first place and the further two Canadian citizens, we are making sure that they receive all the treatments in accordance with law,” Cong said, adding that they and other detainees have been given “better food” to improve immunity.
“I think that my point is very clear. We want to make sure that the safety and health of those detainees are protected so as long as the situation gets better, we will resume these consular visits.”