China: 2 Canadians in exchange for prisoners released for health reasons
China’s Foreign Ministry said Monday that two Canadians detained in late 2019 who had been allowed to return to Canada as part of a prisoner exchange had been released on bail for health reasons.
A spokesperson for the ministry made the comment as Beijing sought to play down the link between their release and the return to China of a long-detained Huawei Technologies executive.
Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were arrested in December 2019, days after Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada at the behest of U.S. authorities.
Many countries have called China’s action a “hostage policy,” while China has accused Canada of arbitrary detention. The two Canadians were jailed for over 1,000 days.
Meng fought the US request for extradition from Canada. She landed in China on Saturday after reaching a deal with the US Department of Justice that led to a prisoner exchange.
“Meng Wanzhou’s case is completely different from that of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor by nature,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said Monday at a daily briefing.
The two men were suspected of endangering national security, Hua said.
Spavor, an entrepreneur, had been sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges of espionage. Kovrig had not yet been convicted but was facing similar charges.
China released the two Canadians on bail after “diagnosis by professional medical institutions, and with the guarantee of the Canadian ambassador to China,” Hua said.
Hua did not answer reporters ‘questions about whether the prisoners’ releases were unrelated and what the health reasons were.
Canada maintained that Kovrig and Spavor were innocent of any charges.
“We continue to oppose the way these two citizens have been treated,” Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau said at the United Nations General Assembly meeting of world leaders on Monday.
He said Spavor and Kovrig “paid a heavy price” because their country “respected the rule of law” in responding to the US extradition request.
Representatives of the two countries exchanged replies at the meeting later Monday, with China rejecting Canada’s position on the case. Canada continued to insist that Kovrig and Spavor were mistreated.
Meng has reached a deal with US federal prosecutors that will drop the fraud charges against her next year. In return, she accepts responsibility for distorting the company’s trade relations in Iran.
White House U.S. press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday that the decision to allow Meng to return to China was an independent law enforcement matter decided by the U.S. Department of Justice. Justice. She added that President Joe Biden’s administration had called for the release of the two Canadians but stressed that the White House was not involved.
She said Biden raised concerns about the detention of Canadians when he spoke with President Xi Jinping earlier this month.
Meng’s Return to China was broadcast live on the country’s public broadcaster, CCTV. She wore a red dress in the shade of the Chinese flag and thanked Xi and the ruling Communist Party.
On Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua said Meng was a victim of “political persecution” and was able to return to China thanks to “the government’s relentless efforts.”
In contrast, the release of the Canadians was reported by the state tabloid Global Times, and although the news spread online, it was not broadcast by more authoritative state media agencies such as CCTV or Xinhua News Agency.
Huawei is the world’s largest supplier of network equipment for telephone and Internet companies. It has been a symbol of China’s progress in becoming a global technological powerhouse – and a subject of US security and law enforcement concerns.
Former President Donald Trump’s administration cut Huawei’s access to U.S. components and technology, including Google music and other smartphone services, and subsequently banned vendors around the world to use American technology to produce components for Huawei.