Canada’s ambassador met in Beijing Friday with a detained former diplomat for the first time since he was arrested in China amid sharpening East-West tensions over trade and other issues.
Michael Kovrig, the former diplomat, and a second Canadian, Michael Spavor, were taken into custody earlier in the week after a top Chinese tech executive was arrested in Vancouver at the request of the United States.
Canada’s foreign ministry said its ambassador to Beijing, John McCallum, was granted consular access to Kovrig on Friday and is pressing for access to Spavor.
Meanwhile in Washington, Canada’s foreign and defense ministers held talks with their US counterparts on the row.
The Canadians were arrested for what Beijing has said is suspicion of “harm to national security” — a phrase often used by Beijing when alleging espionage.
But the detentions are widely believed to be retaliation for Canada’s arrest December 1 of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei.
Meng was arrested while changing planes in Vancouver, outraging China and sparking a diplomatic standoff between the North American allies and Beijing.
The United States has accused her of lying to bankers about the use of a covert subsidiary to sell to Iran in breach of sanctions. If convicted, she faces more than 30 years in prison.
On Tuesday a Canadian judge ordered Meng’s released on Can$10 million (US$7.5 million) bail, pending a US extradition hearing.
– Visit shelved –
Canadian Tourism Minister Melanie Joly, meanwhile, shelved a trip to China next week to promote this country as a top destination for leisure travel.
“Canada and China mutually agreed to postpone the Canada-China Year of Tourism Closing Ceremony and Minister Joly’s planned travel to China,” her office said in a statement.
Since Beijing approved Canada as a tourist destination for its citizens in 2010, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Canada has risen by 20 percent per year to almost 700,000 in 2017.
Ottawa had hoped to double the figure by 2021, opening seven new visa application offices in China this year to facilitate the processing of travel documents. But those targets are now in doubt amid a public backlash in China.
Kovrig, who works for the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank, was being investigated by the Beijing bureau of state security, while the agency’s office in northeast Liaoning province was handling the probe into Spavor, Lu said.
Spavor is a China-based business consultant who facilitates trips to North Korea, met with its leader Kim Jong Un and arranged some of retired NBA star Dennis Rodman’s trips to the country.
China’s foreign ministry said ICG was not registered in China and its employees would be “in violation” of the law if they engage in activities in the country.
ICG closed its office in the Chinese capital after Beijing passed a law on NGOs, which came into force in 2017, to better control the activities on its soil of foreign organizations.