The Chinese government has formally accused two Canadian citizens, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, of spying and stealing “state secrets,” according to a new report in the Washington Post. The charges come on the heels of a Canadian court’s ruling on Friday that an executive for Huawei who’s been charged with fraud can be extradited from Canada to the United States.
“The relevant departments stressed that China is a country under the rule of law and will resolutely crack down on illegal and criminal activities that seriously endanger national security,” according to an announcement posted this morning from China’s Communist Party Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission.
The two men were first detained in December, less than two weeks after Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver at the request of the U.S. government. Meng has been charged with fraud and violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and faces extradition to the U.S.
In January, the U.S. Justice Department charged Huawei Technologies with fraud, obstruction of justice, and the theft of trade secrets from T-Mobile. A new report from the New York Times this morning claims that Huawei plans to sue the U.S. government as soon as this week for blocking the use of the company’s tech by federal agencies.
Spavor runs an organisation called Paektu Cultural Exchange which works to encourage both outside investment and western tourism in North Korea. Spavor is considered friendly with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, which makes the charges against Spavor even more strange. North Korea is a close ally of the Chinese government.
Kovrig is a former diplomat to China and an advisor to a Brussels-based think tank called the International Crisis Group. The group’s website includes a clock that lists how long Kovrig has been detained and calls for his immediate release. Kovrig has reportedly been detained for 85 days in prison a cell where the lights are kept on all day.
“We are aware of the Xinhua report of 4 March but have heard nothing official about any charges being laid against our colleague, Michael Kovrig,” Karim Lebhour from International Crisis Group told Gizmodo by email.
“Michael’s work for Crisis Group has been entirely transparent and in the open as all who follow his work can attest. Vague and unsubstantiated accusations against him are unwarranted and unfair.”
The tit-for-tat arrests between the U.S., China, and Canada are all being done against the backdrop of the New Cold War. Western countries charge that Huawei shouldn’t be developing 5G networks because of the tech giant’s close ties to the Chinese government. But Huawei is pushing back by insisting that not only is Huawei safe, the United States engages in spying on its own citizens as well.
This issue isn’t going away anytime soon. And in the meantime, any Americans or Canadians who are thinking about travelling to China in the near future may want to reconsider their plans. The last thing anyone wants is to become a pawn in this global chess game.
As we saw with President Donald Trump’s recent comments on North Korea and Otto Warmbier, the U.S. government isn’t necessarily going to go to bat for any Americans captured on the other side of what my colleague Andrew Liszewski recently called the Iron Firewall.