U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the detention of two Canadian citizens in China is unlawful and unacceptable, and the United States will work toward returning them home.
Pompeo made his remarks at a press conference after a meeting with Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis in Washington on Dec. 14.
“The unlawful detention of two Canadian citizens is unacceptable. They ought to be returned,” Pompeo said. “The United States has stood for that, whether they’re our citizens or citizens of other countries. We ask all nations of the world to treat other citizens properly, and the detention of these two Canadian citizens in China ought to end.”
Canadians Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat currently on a leave of absence from Canada’s foreign services, and Michael Spavor, a businessman, were detained in China over what Chinese authorities say are national-security concerns.
The seizure of the Canadians occurred after Canada arrested Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on an extradition request from the United States. China had warned Canada of “grave consequences” if Meng wasn’t released immediately.
Meng is accused of fraud for allegedly lying to U.S. banks about Huawei’s relationship with Skycom, a Hong Kong-based company reportedly doing business with Iran. She was released on bail in Vancouver on Dec. 11.
Freeland said Canada’s ambassador to China has been able to meet with Kovrig. However, no access to Spavor has been provided yet.
“We are extremely seized of this issue. We care for, we fight for all Canadians detained abroad,” Freeland said.
Kovrig, who worked as a diplomat between 2003 to 2016 before going on leave, is currently a senior adviser at the think tank International Crisis Group. Spavor, a businessman based in northern China, is known for running cultural exchanges with North Korea.
Freeland said she discussed the issue of the captured Canadians and Meng’s arrest with her U.S. counterpart, and insisted there is no political interference in the case of the arrest in Canada.
“We discussed China and the case of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, building on a conversation that Secretary Mike Pompeo and I began soon after her arrest,” Freeland said. “We all agree that the most important thing we can do is to uphold the rule of law, ensure that Ms. Meng’s right to due process is respected, and that the current judicial process in Canada remains apolitical.”
Pompeo said while trade discussions between the United States and China are ongoing, there are “lots of complicated issues going on with China today all around the world,” adding that the administration is working “on each of those to get good outcomes for the people of the United States of America and respecting the rule of law each step along the way.”
Rule of Law
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) echoed Pompeo’s condemnation of the Chinese regime’s actions and called for the release of the detained Canadians.
“Meng Wanzhou’s arrest was no surprise; Huawei executives were warned by their D.C. office years ago about the vulnerabilities they faced related to U.S. sanctions,” Smith said in a statement to The Epoch Times. “As such, the Chinese government should tone down its heated rhetoric and retaliatory detentions of Canadian citizens—who should be released immediately.”
Smith also pointed out the difference between countries with independent judicial systems and China.
“Because the courts and press in China are controlled by the government, maybe it is hard for them to understand that independent judges, in a rule of law country, will decide whether there is enough evidence to formally charge Meng Wanzhou,” he said. “And, unlike in China, that decision will be made transparently and with full coverage by a free press.”
Canadians Captured in China
During the press conference with Pompeo, Freeland said Chinese authorities say the detainment of the Canadian citizens isn’t related to the arrest of Meng.
In 2014, shortly after Canada acted on an extradition request from the United States to detain Chinese national Su Bin over charges of stealing sensitive military information, Julia and Kevin Garratt, a Canadian couple who lived in China for decades, were suddenly arrested and charged with espionage.
Julia was eventually released in 2015, and Kevin in 2016. Su, who was extradited to the United States after his arrest in Canada, pleaded guilty to the offenses for which he was charged in 2016.
There are a number of other Canadian citizens currently captured in China, including Sun Qian, an adherent of Falun Dafa, a spiritual meditation practice persecuted in China; John Chang and Allison Lu, winery owners who were arrested on allegations of smuggling; and Huseyincan Celil, a Canadian of Uyghur-Chinese ethnicity.
With reporting by Holly Kellum in Washington.