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China raises the Huawei stakes by charging two Canadians with spying

Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been imprisoned for 18 months and have only been charged after the Huawei CFO lost her extradition appeal.

The two Canadians were arrested in China a few days after Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou was herself arrested in Canada. While the charges against her were made clear immediately, it has taken the Chinese courts a year and a half to formally charge Kovrig and Spavor. The belated initiation of legal due process by China comes after the Huawei exec lost her first battle against extradition from Canada to the US.

China has apparently warned Canada of consequences regarding its cooperation in the extradition process, but at the same time insists the arrest of the two men is unconnected, which seems implausible. The Chinese People’s Daily, which acts as a mouthpiece for the Communist party, reported on the announcement from the Supreme People’s Prosecutor.

We are once more indebted to our China bureau for a translation as there’s no sign of the story on the English language version of the site (or even the Chinese language one for overseas readers). “After lawful investigations, the People’s prosecutors in Dandong have charged Michael Spavor, of Canadian nationality, with illegally obtaining and providing state secret for overseas parties, at Dandong People’s Court,” said the announcement, with the other accusation being the same, but from the Beijing equivalent court.

Last September Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was uncharacteristically strident in his denunciation of China’s actions. “Using arbitrary detention as a tool to achieve political goals, international or domestic, is something that is of concern not just to Canada but to all our allies, who have been highlighting that this is not acceptable behaviour in the international community because they are all worried about China engaging in the same kinds of pressure tactics with them,” he said.

Trudeau also contrasted Canada’s dedication to legal due process with China’s apparent political control over the legal process. It seems fair to assume China detained Kovrig and Spavor to use them as political pawns and that the decision to formally charge them is in retaliation for the failure of that strategy. Any citizen of a country that has fallen out of favour with China should now think twice before travelling there.

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