Amid rising tensions with India, China needs to focus on its immediate neighbourhood.
Canada said it has confirmed with Chinese officials that detained citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were picked up in December 2018 shortly after Canada arrested a top Huawei executive on a US extradition warrant, “have not yet gone on trial”.
The two men were said to have been “indicted and tried” during a regular briefing by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday afternoon.
But Canada told Al Jazeera that officials from the Canadian embassy in Beijing had spoken directly with the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and “confirmed that, contrary to what has been reported in the media this morning, there has been no development in the cases of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.”
It said the confusion was the result of an “inaccurate characterization of the process made by the Chinese MFA spokesperson.
“The two men were indicted on June 19, but have yet not gone to trial,” spokesperson Christelle Chartrand said in an emailed response to questions.
Thursday marked two years since the two men were detained. Both have been held without access to lawyers or family, and for months the authorities prevented even consular officials from visiting them, blaming the coronavirus.
Canada has made the release of Kovrig and Spavor a priority, and dismissed Beijing’s insistence that their detentions are unconnected with the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and the daughter of the telecommunication company’s founder, who is wanted in the US for Iran sanctions’ violations.
On Thursday, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying denied any link to Meng’s case, and claimed that unlike Kovrig and Spavor’s detention, Meng’s arrest in Canada had been “a political matter” from the beginning.
She said the two Canadians were “suspected of endangering China’s national security” and their detention was lawful.
Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat, was living in Hong Kong and working as a senior adviser on Northeast Asia for Crisis Group when he was detained, while Michael Spavor was a well-known entrepreneur doing business between China and North Korea.
Diplomats and analysts suspect they were detained in retaliation for Meng’s arrest and accuse China of “hostage diplomacy”.