Canada has demanded that China immediately release two Canadians detained in what is said to be an arbitrary detention. The detentions of Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat and an advisor with the International Crisis Group (ICG), and businessman Michael Spavor are widely believed to be tit-for-tat arrests related to the high-profile Canadian arrest of an executive of a major Chinese corporation. Canadian police arrested Huawei Technologies’ chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, who is also the daughter of Huawei’s founder, on Dec 1.
Meng was arrested at the request of the United States. She is facing extradition on charges that she and her company were misleading to banks regarding the company’s business dealings in Iran. Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said that Meng was facing a “fair, unbiased and transparent legal proceeding.” U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Palladino noted that Canada was honoring its international legal commitments in arresting Meng.
Nine days after Meng’s arrest, China detained Kovrig and Spavor on allegations of “engaging in activities that endanger the national security” of the country. Freeland said in a statement, “We are deeply concerned by the arbitrary detention by Chinese authorities of two Canadians earlier this month and call for their immediate release.”
The U.S., the U.K. and the EU have issued statements in support of Canada. U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt stating his deep concern that China may have detained the two Canadians for political reasons. The EU said in its issued statement: “The declared motive for the arrest and detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, both Canadian nationals, raises concerns about legitimate research and business practices in China.”
The show of support is significant for Canada after its allies declined to take its side in a recent spat with Saudi Arabia. After Canada’s foreign ministry tweeted support for an arrested Saudi activist, Saudi Arabia expelled Canada’s ambassador, withdrew its own ambassador, and ordered their citizens studying in Canada to leave. No country spoke out publicly in support of Canada during the incident.