The United States criticized the Chinese government’s closed-court trials against two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who are widely viewed as being detained as part of China’s hostage diplomacy in retaliation for Canada assisting the Justice Department with extraditing a top Huawei official.
“We remain deeply troubled by the lack of transparency surrounding the legal proceedings of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, and join Canada in calling for continued consular access in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations,” State Department spokesman Ned Price tweeted on Tuesday.
Kovrig was tried during secret court proceedings in Beijing on Monday after being arrested in late 2018, while Spavor faced an opaque court trial in Dandong on Friday. Kovrig is a former Canadian diplomat who had worked for Canada’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and had been working in China as an adviser on relations between China and North Korea for the International Crisis Group. Spavor headed a business in China that helped promote visits to North Korea. Journalists and diplomats from around the globe were denied access to the trials.
Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested by Canadian authorities in December 2018 at Vancouver International Airport at the request of the U.S. after being indicted in the Eastern District of New York in January 2019, charged with bank fraud and wire fraud as well as conspiracy to commit both. In the same 13-count indictment in the Brooklyn court, Huawei itself, as well as two affiliates, Huawei USA and Skycom, were charged with wire fraud, bank fraud, conspiracy, money laundering, and dodging sanctions against Iran. After Meng’s arrest, China arrested Spavor and Kovrig, who remain imprisoned.
Meng is the daughter of Ren Zhengfei, Huawei’s founder and CEO, who has consistently denied that Huawei has done anything wrong.
The Justice Department has detailed a sanctions evasions scheme by Huawei dating back as early as 2007. Huawei hid its connection to Skycom, using it as a cutout to do business in Iran with plausible deniability. Meng was charged with helping hide Skycom’s affiliation with the Chinese telecommunications giant and with concealing Huawei’s illicit activities in Iran.
Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Marc Garneau, said this week that “securing [Spavor and Kovrig's] safe return to Canada is my top priority” as he said the Canadian government is “deeply troubled by the total lack of transparency surrounding these hearings, and we continue to work toward an immediate end to their arbitrary detention.”
The Canadian government noted that access to Spavor’s hearing was denied to Canada along with diplomats from Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States and that access to Kovrig’s hearing was denied to Canada and diplomats from 23 other nations too.
“The United States continues to raise this issue at every opportunity,” a State Department spokesperson told the Washington Examiner on Tuesday. “We are deeply concerned by the decision of People’s Republic of China authorities to hold a closed-court hearing of Canadian citizen Michael Spavor on March 19 and Michael Kovrig on March 22. We were deeply disappointed by the PRC’s refusal to grant the requests of Canadian and other foreign diplomats, to attend these trials.”
The State Department official added: “We call upon PRC authorities to grant the requests of Canadian officials and other foreign diplomats to attend follow-on proceedings when the court issues its verdict. We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Canada in calling for their immediate release, and we continue to condemn the lack of minimum procedural protections during their two-year arbitrary detention.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying tried to turn the tables on Monday.
“China's position on the Meng Wanzhou case is very clear,” the CCP spokeswoman said. “This is nothing short of a political incident in which Canada played a very disgraceful role as an accomplice. We urge the Canadian side to immediately release Ms. Meng Wanzhou, who has been arbitrarily and unreasonably detained by the Canadian side.”
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing hammered China’s actions against the duo, saying: “The charges are a blatant attempt to use human beings as bargaining leverage. The practice of arbitrary detention to exercise leverage over foreign governments is completely unacceptable.”
Last month, roughly five dozen countries, including the U.S., joined Canada in signing the Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations “to reaffirm grave concern about the use of arbitrary arrest or detention by States to exercise leverage over foreign governments, contrary to international law” and to “stand in solidarity against arbitrary arrest, detention, or sentencing by other states seeking to exercise leverage over them.”
“I’m grateful to Canada for their leadership. … It’s time to send a clear message to every government that arbitrarily detains foreign nationals and tries to use them as leverage: This will not be tolerated by the international community,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in February, adding, “I urge more countries to join us in making it clear that arbitrary detention has absolutely no place in state-to-state relations. Human beings are not bargaining chips.”
China was furious over the declaration.
“The Chinese side expresses its strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition over this and has lodged stern representations with the Canadian side,” a Chinese Embassy spokesman in Canada said. “The Canadian side’s attempt to pressure China by using ‘Megaphone Diplomacy’ or ganging up is totally futile and will only head towards a dead end.”
Meng was released on $8 million bail in early January 2019 and has been living in a mansion her family owns in Vancouver. She is allowed to travel around the city with a GPS monitor on her ankle while awaiting the result of her extradition proceedings, which are still tied up in Canadian court.
The Justice Department unveiled a superseding indictment against Huawei, including Meng, in February 2020, charging the Chinese telecommunications giant with racketeering and conspiracy to steal trade secrets while detailing claims Huawei’s deceptive efforts to evade U.S., European Union, and United Nations sanctions when doing business in North Korea and Iran.
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