Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today Canada will continue to link Beijing’s decision to charge two Canadians with spying to the arrest of a Chinese tech executive, hours after China chided him to “stop making irresponsible remarks.”
“Within the very first few days of the detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, Chinese officials were highlighting a link between the detention a week before of Meng and the arrest of the two Michaels,” Trudeau said this morning during his daily briefing outside Rideau Cottage.
“It has been obvious from the beginning that this was a political decision made by the Chinese government, and we deplore it and have from the very beginning.”
Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were detained in what was widely seen as an attempt to pressure Canada after Meng’s December 2018 arrest in Vancouver. Charges against them were announced Friday after a Canadian judge ruled the extradition case of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou can proceed to its next stage, moving her closer to being handed over to American authorities.
WATCH: | Chinese foreign ministry denies links in high-profile extradition, espionage cases:
On Friday, Trudeau said Chinese authorities “directly linked” the cases of Kovrig and Spavor with that of Meng. He called on Beijing to end its “arbitrary detention.”
Earlier this morning, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said the spying charges are “completely different” from Meng’s case. Meng was arrested on U.S. charges connected to possible violations of trade sanctions on Iran.
“There is no such thing as arbitrary detention,” said the ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian.
“China urges the relevant Canadian leader to earnestly respect the spirit of the rule of law, respect China’s judicial sovereignty and stop making irresponsible remarks,” Zhao said.
However, China’s ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, has linked the cases. He suggested in an interview with Global last month that Kovrig’s and Spavor’s treatment would improve if Canada returned Meng.
“I would like to take this opportunity to point out that actually the biggest issue in our bilateral relationship is still Meng Wanzhou’s case, so that’s why we have made our position very clear to make sure that she’s back in China smoothly and safely,” he said.
“I think that my point is very clear. We want to make sure that the safety and health of those detainees are protected so as long as the situation gets better, we will resume these consular visits.”
Trudeau said his government continues to work behind the scenes to secure the release of the two Canadians, but continued to rule out a prisoner exchange.
“No. We’re not considering that,” the PM told reporters.
“Canada has a strong and independent justice system. We will ensure that it goes through its proper forces and anyone who’s considering weakening our values or weakening the independence of our justice system doesn’t understand the importance of standing strong on our principles and our values.”
China says consular visits suspended because of COVID-19
Meng, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Ltd. and the daughter of its founder, is accused of lying to banks in Hong Kong about Huawei’s dealings with Iran in possible violation of U.S. sanctions.
Meng’s case is a “seriously political incident” and part of U.S. efforts to “suppress Chinese high-tech enterprises and Huawei,” Zhao said. He said Canada “played the role of an accomplice.”
“We strongly urge Canada to correct its mistakes as soon as possible, immediately release Meng Wanzhou and ensure her safe return to home,” said Zhao.
On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended Canada while taking a swipe at China’s decision to move ahead with formal charges.
“These charges are politically motivated and completely groundless. The United States stands with Canada in calling on Beijing for the immediate release of the two men and rejects the use of these unjustified detentions to coerce Canada,” he said in a statement.
“Additionally, we echo Canada’s call for immediate consular access to its two citizens, in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, as China has prohibited such access for almost six months, and the world has no knowledge of the two Canadians’ condition.”
Trudeau thanked the U.S. and other allies for speaking out.
WATCH | China always linked Meng and the two Michaels: Trudeau
“It has been obvious from the beginning that this was a political decision made by the Chinese government and we deplore it,” he said.
“This using of arbitrary detentions as a means to advance political gains is totally unacceptable in a world based on rules.”
Meng is living in a mansion she owns in Vancouver, where she reportedly is working on a graduate degree. Kovrig and Spavor are being held at an undisclosed location and have been denied access to lawyers or family members.
China also has sentenced two other Canadians to death and suspended imports of Canadian canola since Meng’s arrest.
Zhao said visits by foreign diplomats to prisoners were suspended due to the novel coronavirus pandemic