Ottawa – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday blasted China’s detention of two Canadians for “political ends,” following charges against them for spying.
His comments came after China’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate on Friday said it had begun the prosecution of ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor, who were “suspected of foreign espionage” and “providing state secrets.”
The move, 18 months after their arrest in a long-running spat between the two countries, came just weeks after a Canadian judge ruled that proceedings to extradite Chinese Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou to the United States will go ahead.
Relations between Canada and China have hit rock bottom over the arrests.
At his daily briefing on Monday Trudeau said: “This arbitrary detention of Canadian citizens is unacceptable and deeply concerning, not just to Canadians but to people around the world who see China using arbitrary detentions as a means to political ends.”
Trudeau said “we deplore” what was obviously from the beginning “a political decision made by the Chinese government” which continues to pressure Canada.
Beijing has blocked billions of dollars’ worth of Canadian agricultural exports.
Trudeau last week said he was “disappointed” that the Canadians were formally charged with spying, and his deputy, Chrystia Freeland, said she was “heartbroken and really angry” over Beijing’s action.
Former ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, had urged Ottawa to take a more aggressive stance, “not just soft diplomatic talk anymore.”
Earlier Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded that China free the two Canadians, and said in a statement that his country “rejects the use of these unjustified detentions to coerce Canada.”
Australia, Britain, France, Germany and others have also pressed China over the detention of the Canadians.
Trudeau thanked allies for “speaking up” against Beijing’s use of what observers have described as “hostage diplomacy.”
“Our allies around the world,” he said, “are extremely concerned about the plight of Canadians because they know very well that it may one day be their turn.”
Kovrig and Spavor were detained in December 2018, nine days after Meng was arrested in Canada on a U.S. warrant.
The United States wants to try her on fraud charges related to the Chinese telecom giant’s alleged violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran.
Meng, the eldest daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, has been out on bail and living in a mansion in Vancouver, while the two Canadians remain in China’s opaque penal system.
“It’s a real shame that China continues to punish Canadians for a decision by our independent judicial system in Meng’s case,” Trudeau commented.
Former senior Canadian officials have proposed a prisoner swap of sorts, intervening in the extradition hearing to release Meng in exchange for the repatriation of the two Canadians.
Trudeau responded to the idea bluntly: “No. We’re not considering that.”