China has put two Canadians imprisoned for the past two years on trial, the foreign ministry said on Thursday.
Former diplomat Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were arrested in China on December 10, 2018.
Confirming the men had been indicted and tried, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the two Canadian nationals “are suspected of endangering China’s national security”.
Hua denied any link to the case against Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, who is being held in Canada and was arrested a few days before Kovrig and Spavor in 2018.
Hua said unlike Kovrig and Spavor’s detention, Meng’s arrest in Canada had been “a political matter” from the outset.
However, diplomats suspect China acted in retaliation and accuse the country of “hostage diplomacy”.
The independent organisation Crisis Group, on whose behalf Kovrig worked, again condemned his arrest, with its President Robert Malley saying he had been arrested “only because he was a Canadian in China in the wrong place at the wrong time”.
Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne issued a statement on Wednesday marking their two years of captivity, saying: “These two Canadians are an absolute priority for our government, and we will continue to work tirelessly to secure their immediate release and to stand up for them as a government and as Canadians.”
“I am struck by the integrity and strength of character the two have shown as they endure immense hardship that would shake anyone’s faith in humanity,” Champagne said.
Meng’s arrest severely damaged relations between Canada and China, which has sentenced two other Canadians to death and suspended imports of canola from Canada.
Evading Iran sanctions
Meng, meanwhile, who is the daughter of the founder of the Chinese communications giant, was detained in Vancouver at the instigation of US authorities.
The US government accuses the Huawei CFO of bank fraud in connection with evading sanctions against Iran and has requested extradition.
Meng is under house arrest in Canada. If convicted in the United States, she could face a long prison term.
It is not publicly known where Kovrig and Spavor are being held or under what conditions, although Canada’s ambassador to China testified to a House of Commons committee this week that they were “robust”.
Canadian diplomats were denied all access to the two men from January to October because of coronavirus precautions cited by the Chinese side. On-site visits were banned and not even virtual visits were permitted.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has described China’s approach as coercive diplomacy, spoke last month with US President-elect Joe Biden about the case of the two men and said he expects Biden to be a good partner in persuading Beijing to release them.