BEIJING – China on Monday ridiculed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s claim that a former Canadian Embassy official detained in Beijing still held diplomatic immunity.
Chinese authorities arrested former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor last month, accusing them both of endangering national security.
The move was widely seen as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of a top Chinese executive from telecom giant Huawei.
Trudeau on Friday accused China of “arbitrarily and unfairly” detaining the two men and of ignoring Kovrig’s “diplomatic immunity” — earning a scornful rebuke from Beijing.
“The accusations that the Chinese side arbitrarily detains Canadian citizens are unfounded,” said foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying at a regular press briefing.
“The relevant people on the Canadian side should seriously learn and study the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. … Don’t make specious statements that make a fool of oneself,” Hua added.
Persons carrying a diplomatic passport are protected by limited immunity when they are abroad under the terms of the Vienna Convention.
Kovrig was arrested Dec. 10 after taking leave from his diplomatic posting to work for the International Crisis Group think tank.
Trudeau’s statement suggested Kovrig carried a diplomatic passport while on his sabbatical — which is possible if authorized by Canada’s foreign ministry — but Hua said he was in China on an ordinary travel document with a business visa.
“No matter which angle you look at it from, Michael Kovrig does not have diplomatic immunity,” she said. “Kovrig is not currently a diplomat.”
Ottawa has called for the Canadians’ immediate release, with the backing of the U.S., EU and several Western nations.
Trudeau has also called for China to respect the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.
Canada should “first take real action to prove that its own judicial system is independent,” Hua said.