Chinese authorities have formally arrested two Canadians on state secrets charges, the government said on Thursday, in what is likely to further increase tension between Ottawa and Beijing.
Businessman Michael Spavor, who worked with North Korea, and former diplomat Michael Kovrig were picked up separately in December, shortly after Canada arrested Huawei Technologies Co Ltd Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, who faces extradition to the United States.
China has repeatedly demanded Meng be released, and has reacted angrily to extradition proceedings against her in a Canadian court.
“According to Chinese prosecutors’ approval, Michael Kovrig, due to being suspected of crimes of gathering state secrets and intelligence for foreign (forces), and Michael Spavor, for being suspected of crimes of stealing and illegally providing state secrets for foreign (forces), have in recent days been approved for arrest according to law,” foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang told a daily news briefing.
China has taken the measures in accordance with the law, he said.
China hoped Canada “will not make irresponsible remarks” about China’s law enforcement and judicial proceedings, Lu said.
The Canadian embassy in Beijing referred questions to Ottawa.
Canadian diplomats have been allowed to visit the two men in detention.
In March, China accused the two of involvement in stealing state secrets.
China has said it is fully guaranteeing both men’s lawful rights. Kovrig also holds Hungarian citizenship.
Kovrig works for the International Crisis Group (ICG) non-governmental organization which focuses on conflict resolution.
With their formal arrest, they could soon face trial, though it is unclear when that may be.
While Canada says China has made no specific link between the detentions of the two men and Meng’s arrest, experts and former diplomats say they have no doubt it is using their cases to pressure Canada.
Meng, 47, is the daughter of Huawei Technologies Co Ltd’s billionaire founder, Ren Zhengfei.
She was arrested at Vancouver’s airport in December on a U.S. warrant and is fighting extradition on charges that she conspired to defraud global banks about Huawei’s relationship with a company operating in Iran.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order barring U.S. firms from using telecom equipment made by companies deemed to pose a national security risk. The order did not specifically identify any country or company, but U.S. officials have previously labelled Huawei a “threat” and lobbied allies not to use Huawei network equipment in next-generation 5G networks.
Meng was released from jail in December on $10 million bail and must wear an electronic ankle bracelet and pay for security guards. She has been living in a Vancouver home.
The formal arrests of the Canadians, reported by the Globe and Mail on Wednesday, come months after the men were detained.