OTTAWA — A Chinese government spokesman says it is not “convenient” to discuss the charges against two Canadians detained in China despite an assertion by the country’s top prosecutor that they broke the law.
Foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang offered that explanation during a press conference in Beijing today, one of two cryptic Chinese government media events that deepened the mystery surrounding the arrests of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
The two were detained last month in what is widely viewed as Chinese retaliation for Canada’s arrest of high-tech executive Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer, by the RCMP in Vancouver at the request of the United States.
The U.S. wants Meng to face fraud charges in the U.S. and she has been released on bail and is living in an upscale Vancouver home in advance of her extradition hearing.
Little is known about Kovrig’s or Spavor’s circumstances, because they’ve each had only a single consular visit by Canada’s ambassador to China, John McCallum, last month.
China’s chief prosecutor, Zhang Jun, told a Beijing briefing today “without a doubt” Kovrig and Spavor broke the country’s laws and are being investigated.
At a regular foreign-ministry briefing, Lu refused to elaborate on the nature of the charges.
“We have said here that these two Canadian citizens are under investigation in accordance with law for engaging in activities that undermine China’s national security,” said Lu. “It is not convenient to disclose more information now.”
Kovrig is a Canadian diplomat who was on a leave from Global Affairs Canada and was working in Beijing for the International Crisis Group, an organization that has written critically about China in the past.
Spavor is an entrepreneur who organized tours to North Korea.
A spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland reiterated Canada’s call for the release of the two men.
“We are deeply concerned by the arbitrary detention by Chinese authorities of two Canadians last month and call for their immediate release,” said Adam Austen.
The government has sought the support of key allies in pressuring China to release Kovrig and Spavor.
The U.S State Department has called for the release of the two Canadians, while Germany, France, the European Union and Australia have also issued supportive statements.