BEIJING – A Communist Party newspaper says China will soon begin trials for two Canadians who were arrested two years ago in apparent retaliation for Canada’s detention of a senior executive for Chinese communications giant Huawei Technologies.
The Global Times said Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor “will soon be tried" after they were charged with “crimes undermining China’s national security” in June 2020.
Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Spavor, an entrepreneur, were arrested in December 2018, days after Meng Wanzhou was detained at Vancouver airport. The U.S. wants her extradited to face fraud charges.
China has revealed few details of the charges against the two, and Canadian diplomats allowed occasional visits have said little other than to call for them to be released.
The Global Times said Kovrig was “accused of having used an ordinary passport and business visa to enter China to steal sensitive information and intelligence through contacts in China since 2017, while Spavor was accused of being a key source of intelligence for Kovrig.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said he had no additional details, but that China had “fully protected all the legal rights of the people concerned," including allowing Canadian diplomats to visit the two.
In Canada, Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Christelle Chartrand said it was not aware of any set timeframe for the trials.
“The Canadian government remains deeply concerned by the arbitrary detention by Chinese authorities of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig since December 2018 and continues to call for their immediate release," she said in a statement. “To date, Global Affairs Canada has not been notified of court hearings for Mr. Kovrig or Mr. Spavor.”
Meng, who remains free on bail in Vancouver, is also the daughter of the founder of Huawei, which China's government has promoted around the world as one of its national champions. Her arrest enraged Beijing, which sees the U.S. case as a political move designed to prevent China’s rise, and it sent China-Canada relations into a tailspin.
China has also retaliated by placing restrictions on various Canadian exports to China, including canola oil seed, and handed death sentences to four Canadians convicted of drug smuggling.
Beijing has repeatedly demanded Meng's immediate, unconditional release as her case winds its way through the Canadian legal system.
The Communist Party newspaper's report late Thursday gave no details of the timing or location of the proceedings again Kovrig and Spavor and cited a “source close to the matter” whom it did not further identify.
Hearings have been delayed because of COVID-19 prevention measures but the court will “push forward the trial soon," the newspaper said.