Canada sends delegation to China to press for release of citizens

Canadian businessman Michael Spavor arrives next to the former NBA basketball player Dennis Rodman (not pictured) after a trip to North Korea, at Beijing Capital International Airport, Beijing, China January 13, 2014. Picture taken January 13, 2014. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/Files

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada has sent a parliamentary delegation to China to press for the release of two Canadian citizens formally arrested for espionage last week, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Tuesday.

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.

Canada has condemned the detentions as “arbitrary”, while China has repeatedly demanded Meng be released. Freeland, speaking in an interview with CBC radio, said she sought “repeatedly” to speak with her Chinese counterpart, but to no avail.

Instead, Liberal lawmaker Robert Oliphant is now leading a Canadian delegation in China to push for release of the two men. She did not say who else was on the mission or give further details.

“That is really important for the Chinese to be hearing directly from us,” she said. “It’s a terrible situation and we are very clear that these two men are arbitrarily detained.”

Canadian diplomats have made recent consular visits to both men, though they have not provided details to the public for privacy reasons. Now that the men have been formally arrested, they could soon face trial.

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.

Meng was released from jail in December on C$10 million ($7.5 million) bail and must wear an electronic ankle bracelet and pay for security guards. She has been living in a Vancouver home that was valued at C$5 million in 2018.

Both she and the company have denied the U.S. charges.

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