China releases two Canadians after U.S. Huawei deal

Canadian businessman Michael Spavor (L) and Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig. File.   | Photo Credit: AFP

For months, China's government had insisted that the more than 1,000 day-imprisonment of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor was not, as Canada had alleged, a case of "hostage diplomacy".

The two Canadians were detained in 2018, shortly after Canada's arrest of top Huawei executive Meng Wangzhou at Vancouver airport, based on a U.S. warrant, under the then Trump administration, accusing the Chinese telecom company of violating Iran sanctions.

Yet, for all of China's insistent claims that the cases were unrelated, the detention of the two Canadians came to a sudden end on Saturday, barely hours after Ms. Meng was released after the U.S. Justice Department reached a deal regarding the criminal charges, agreeing to a deferred prosecution and for her to leave Canada.

Shortly after Ms. Meng left Vancouver airport in the company of Chinese officials and boarded a charter flight to China organised by the government, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the "two Michaels" were going home, bringing an end to a case that had severely disrupted Canada-China relations and led to allegations of Beijing taking "hostages" to push for the release of Ms. Meng, who is also the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei.

Her release and return home was widely cheered by the media in China and framed as a major diplomatic win showing China standing up to the U.S. The retaliatory cases against the two Michaels was only a footnote.

The Foreign Ministry, in a statement, said "facts have long proved that this is a political persecution against a Chinese citizen with the aim to oppress China's high-tech companies."

"The 'fraud' accusations against Ms. Meng are nothing but fabrication. Even HSBC, which is named as a "victim" by the US, has issued documents proving Ms. Meng's innocence. What the United States and Canada are doing is typical arbitrary detention," the statement said.

The U.S. statement announcing the deal that allowed for Ms. Meng's release said she had "made multiple material misrepresentations to a senior executive of a financial institution regarding Huawei’s business operations in Iran in an effort to preserve Huawei’s banking relationship with the financial institution… Meng’s admissions confirm the crux of the government’s allegations in the prosecution of this financial fraud," the statement said.

In August, Mr. Spavor had been sentenced to 11 years in China and convicted “of spying on China’s national secrets”. Mr. Kovrig’s trial opened in March and he was still awaiting a verdict, although already detained for more than 1,000 days.

The Party-run Global Times said Mr. Kovrig “was accused of using an ordinary passport and business visa to enter China to steal sensitive information and intelligence through contacts in China since 2017, while Spavor was accused of being a key source of intelligence for Kovrig.”

While the two men were kept in harsh conditions in a Chinese prison, Ms. Meng, on the other hand, awaited her verdict out on bail, spent mostly in a mansion in Vancouver that she owned.

"These two men have gone through an unbelievably difficult ordeal. For the past 1,000 days they have shown strife, perseverance, resilience, and grace - and we are all inspired by that," Mr. Trudeau said.

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Printable version | Oct 19, 2021 10:01:18 PM |

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