OTTAWA - Canada’s top diplomat on Saturday called on allies for support in securing the release of Canadians detained in China, noting that the arrests are a “worrying precedent” for the entire international community.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said that China’s detention of former diplomat Michael Kovrig and consultant Michael Spavor is “not only a Canadian issue.
“It is an issue which concerns our allies and we’ve been discussing it very actively with our allies and partners around the world,” she said in a phone conference with reporters.
Freeland repeated a call for the “immediate” release of the two men who had been “detained arbitrarily.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was making a surprise visit to Canadian troops deployed in Mali, also weighed in, saying that: “We are impressing upon the Chinese how it is important that they release the detainees.”
“We feel that respecting the rule of law, respecting the rights of citizens, of prisoners is extremely important,” the premier said in televised remarks.
Kovrig and Spavor were detained on December 10 and accused of engaging in activities that “endanger China’s national security.”
Though no link has officially been made, the arrests seem to be in retaliation of Canada’s December 10 arrest of Meng Wanzhou, a top executive at Chinese telecom giant Huawei.
Ottawa has repeatedly said Meng’s arrest was not political, but rather part of a judicial process in keeping with an extradition treaty with Washington.
“In my conversations with Chinese ambassador and in our conversation with Chinese officials, the Chinese officials have not directly made that connection” between Meng’s detention and the arrest of the Canadians, Freeland said.
“It would of course be highly inappropriate for there to be any connection.”
Meng was released on bail a week ago in Vancouver pending her U.S. extradition hearing on fraud charges related to sanctions-breaking business dealings with Iran.
Freeland said that Meng “has been treated with respect … and has been given full access to due process as anyone detained in Canada is given.”
She added: “This is clearly a difficult moment in our relationship with China.”
A third Canadian was arrested in China for “working illegally,” but Canadian authorities have said that appears to be a routine visa case.
Freeland thanked the United States, Britain and the European Union for their support, saying that Canada will continue to work with its allies to get the Canadians released.