China formally arrests Canadians accused of stealing state secrets

Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been detained in China since December. File

China later announced it suspected Kovrig, who works for the International Crisis Group think tank, of spying and stealing state secrets and alleged that Spavor had provided him with intelligence.

Former diplomat Michael Kovrig is "suspected of collecting state secrets and intelligence", while businessman Michael Spavor is suspected of "stealing and illegally offering state secrets" overseas, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lu Kang (陸慷) told a regular briefing.

"We reiterate our demand that China immediately release Mr Kovrig and Mr Spavor".

After holding Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in an undisclosed locations since December, China's confirmation of the formal charges came just as the USA government all but banned American companies from doing business with Chinese tech giant Huawei, a move that could badly cripple a firm considered by China to be a national symbol of industrial prowess.

China said on Thursday (May 16) two Canadians who have been detained since December have been formally arrested for crimes linked to taking state secrets.

Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang confirmed the arrests at Thursday's daily briefing, saying the arrests were approved by law and were made "recently". Nor did Lu give an exact date of their formal arrests.

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Though no link has been officially made, the detention of Mr Spavor and Mr Kovrig is thought to be in retaliation for Canada's Dec 1 detention, on a United States extradition request, of Meng Wanzhou, a top executive of Chinese telecom giant Huawei who is accused of violating Iran sanctions.

China hoped Canada "will not make irresponsible remarks " about China's law enforcement and judicial proceedings, Lu added. For months, the pair have been held in a detention facility without access to a lawyer and been granted a single consular visit per month. When asked about a timeline he says they will take the time to get it right.

Meng, 47, is the daughter of Huawei Technologies Co Ltd's billionaire founder, Ren Zhengfei. This move will ban US companies from selling or transferring USA technology to Huawei without US government approval.

She was arrested at Vancouver's airport in December on a US warrant and is fighting extradition on charges that she conspired to defraud global banks about Huawei's relationship with a company operating in Iran. The order did not specifically identify any country or company, but US officials have previously labelled Huawei a "threat" and lobbied allies not to use Huawei network equipment in next-generation 5G networks.

Another Canadian in China, Robert Schellenberg, was sentenced to death in a drug case following Meng's detention.

She has been ordered to wear an electronic anklet and hand over her passports after being released on bail in mid-December on a C$10 million (US$7.4 million) bond. His case is now under appeal.

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