A second Canadian who has gone missing in China is reportedly under investigation on suspicion of “engaging in activities that harm China’s national security”.
Businessman Michael Spavor was “being investigated” by the Dandong city branch of China’s Ministry of State Security and the probe started on December 10, a government news agency reported on Thursday.
Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat, was also detained by Chinese state security on Monday in Beijing, according to his employer, the International Crisis Group think-tank.
Kovrig, too, is suspected of “engaging in activities” that endanger China’s national security, according to a report Wednesday by Beijing News, a local newspaper.
The reported investigations of two Canadian nationals come more than a week after Ottawa infuriated Beijing by arresting Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, at Washington’s request.
Meng was released on $7.5m bail by a court in Vancouver on Tuesday.
The Canadian government had said it saw no explicit link to the Huawei case.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters on Wednesday that a second Canadian citizen could be in trouble in China.
Canada’s foreign ministry said it has been unable to contact Spavor since he notified the government that he was being questioned by Chinese authorities.
Foreign ministry spokesman Guillaume Berube said in a statement issued in Canada late on Wednesday that Spavor is a businessman based in the northern Chinese city of Dandong and runs cultural exchanges with North Korea.
Canada was working hard to ascertain Spavor’s whereabouts and would continue to raise the issue with the Chinese government, Berube said.
Spavor, who is based in Dandong, a China and UK-based non-profit social enterprise.
The group says on its website it is “dedicated to facilitating sustainable cooperation, cross-cultural exchanges, activities, trade, and investment” with North Korea.
It also says the organisation maintains an “array of contacts” within North Korea and is “nonpolitical”.
Spavor has acted as a translator and facilitator for former US National Basketball Association star Dennis Rodman on trips to North Korea and shared Long Island Iced Teas with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on board one of his private boats after they went jet-skiing in 2013.
More recently, he has been trying to facilitate investment in North Korea in anticipation of sanctions being lifted, often hosting both North Korean officials and potential investors at his office in Dandong, as well as on trips inside North Korea, Spavor has told the Reuters news agency in previous interviews.
China’s foreign ministry suggested on Wednesday that Kovrig might have broken China’s laws on the management of non-governmental organisations if he was conducting work in China for the ICG, which is not registered.
Accusations of harming state security could cover a wide range of suspected crimes, and in China, are often very vague when first levelled.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had earlier commented about Kovrig’s case and said Ottawa was engaging with Chinese officials, which in the short term looks to have hurt his government’s bid to forge closer trade ties with China.