BEIJING (AP) – Chinese prosecutors accused two detained Canadians of espionage on Friday in an apparent bid to increase pressure on Canada to drop a U.S. extradition request for a Huawei director under house arrest in Vancouver.
Michael Kovrig was charged by Beijing on suspicion of espionage for state secrets and intelligence. Michael Spavor was charged in Dandong, a city near the North Korean border, on suspicion of espionage for a foreign entity and unlawful disclosure of state secrets.
The indictment was announced by China’s highest prosecutor’s office in short social media posts.
When asked about the evidence China had against the two, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said only that each of them is accused of “secretly collecting state secrets for overseas troops with particularly serious consequences.”
“The facts are clear and the evidence is solid and sufficient,” Zhao told reporters during a daily briefing. Zhao did not provide details.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “very disappointed” by China’s latest move, calling it a very difficult time for the two Canadians and their families.
“The Chinese authorities have directly linked the case of the two Michaels to the legal proceedings against Ms. Meng, which is extremely disappointing,” said Trudeau. “These Canadian citizens are being held for no other reason than that the Chinese government is disappointed with the independent proceedings of the Canadian judiciary.”
Trudeau said they will continue to push the Chinese for their release, saying Canada’s allies are equally concerned.
Both men are held for 18 months. They were detained shortly after the December 2018 arrest of Meng Wanzhou, a chief executive of Chinese technology giant Huawei. Huawei’s founder’s daughter was arrested at the request of U.S. authorities who wanted her for fraud involving trade with Iran.
A Canadian judge ruled this month that the US extradition case against Meng could proceed to the next stage.
China has denied any explicit connection between its case and the long-term detention of the two Canadian men, but outside experts consider them tied, and Chinese diplomats have strongly suggested a connection.
Meng has been released on bail while her extradition case is in court and is staying in one of her two Vancouver mansions, where she is said to be working on a graduate degree. Kovrig and Spavor are being held in a secret location and have not had access to lawyers or family members to date.
China has also sentenced two other Canadians to death and suspended imports of Canadian canola, while saying those movements were also unrelated to Meng’s case.
Relations between Canada and China have been at their lowest point since the bloody crackdown by the Chinese army against pro-democratic protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989.
“I was heartbroken and really angry when I heard about the latest development with the two Michaels,” said Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland. “We will not rest until they can get home.”
Freeland also said that China should grant them consular access. Canadian officials have not had consular access to them since mid-January.
Kovrig worked as an analyst in Hong Kong at the non-governmental International Crisis Group. He previously worked as a diplomat for Canada.
“This is yet another arbitrary and groundless step in a case that was arbitrary and groundless from day one. Michael did not compromise the security of China: everything he did was public and known to the Chinese authorities, “said Robert Malley, president and CEO of the International Crisis Group, in a statement.
The tensions seem to further damage Huawei’s reputation in America, with two of Canada’s three major telecommunications companies announcing earlier this month that they have decided not to use the Chinese technology giant for their next-generation 5G wireless network.
Bell Canada announced that Swedish-based Ericsson will be its supplier and Telus Corp. later announced that it had also selected Ericsson and Nokia.
Huawei is the world’s largest provider of network equipment used by telephone and internet companies, but has long been seen as a front for espionage by the Chinese military and its highly skilled security services.
The United States has urged Canada to exclude Huawei equipment from its next-generation wireless networks, saying Huawei is legally required by the Chinese regime. The United States and Australia have banned Huawei for being concerned that it is a body of China’s military intelligence agency – a charge the company denies.
Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.
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