China charges two Canadian hostages with spying

Foreign Affairs

Formal charges against two Canadians being held in China are formally announced as China-Canada relations worsen.

People hold signs calling for China to release Canadian detainees Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig during a court appearance by Huawei's Financial Chief Meng Wanzhou, outside of British Columbia Supreme Court building in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

The two Canadians detained in China in December 2018 in retaliation for the arrest of Huawei executive Mèng Wǎnzhōu 孟晚舟 in Vancouver have now been formally charged with serious crimes. The Globe and Mail reports:

After 557 days of interrogation and incarceration in facilities where the lights are kept on day and night, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been formally charged by Chinese authorities, accused of espionage — a crime punishable by life in prison.

The charges against the two Canadians, which carry a minimum sentence of 10 years, represent the formal commencement of judicial proceedings against them in a justice system with a conviction rate of more than 99%.

Mr. Kovrig was charged with spying on national secrets and intelligence for entities outside the territory of China. Mr. Spavor was charged with spying on national secrets and illegally providing state secrets to entities outside the territory of China.

No details of the alleged espionage have been released by China.

“Friends and North Korea watchers have expressed disappointment and concern after Chinese authorities announced spying charges against Michael Spavor, a Canadian entrepreneur and pro-engagement advocate known for his personal relationship with Kim Jong-un,” the South China Morning Post reports. One friend noted that Spavor “did not read Chinese,” making it “implausible” that he could have gathered state secrets in China.

Michael Kovrig’s employer, the International Crisis Group, put out a statement protesting the charges: “China’s authorities claim without any justification that Michael was stealing state secrets, but nothing in this case is secret: neither Michael’s work, which was always fully transparent, nor the reasons behind China’s actions.”

  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also weighed in, saying he was “disappointed” with the development, and adding, “We will continue to use all of our expertise to return these two Michaels to Canada,” per CBC.
  • François-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, reiterated in a statement that the two Michaels were “arbitrarily detained,” and said that the Government of Canada was “deeply concerned that Canadian officials have not been granted consular access to Mr. Kovrig or Mr. Spavor since mid-January.”

The news comes three weeks after a judge in Vancouver found that the charges of Iran-connected bank fraud leveled against Meng Wanzhou fulfill the principle of “double criminality,” meaning that the extradition case against her can go forward, according to CTV news.

“China has been staging its own fake judicial process in sync with the real process in Vancouver,” David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China, told the New York Times (porous paywall). In comments to the NYT, Mulroney was joined by another former Canadian ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, in calling for Canada to become tougher in dealing with China in light of the continued deterioration of the case of the Michaels.