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Two Canadians detained in China since 2018 to face trial imminently

China announced trials on eve of first high-level US-China talks of Biden administration

Canadian businessman Michael Spavor

Canadian businessman Michael Spavor (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Two Canadians detained in China since December 2018 in what is widely seen as a retaliatory move for the arrest of a senior Huawei executive are set to face trial soon.

After almost 830 days in detention, Michael Spavor’s trial will begin Friday (March 18), while Michael Kovrig’s will start Monday.

Both men face charges related to espionage and endangering China’s national security, according to reports.

Marc Garneau, Canada’s foreign minister, announced in a statement that the country’s embassy in Beijing has been notified of imminent court proceedings against the two men.

“The arbitrary detention of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor is a top priority for the Government of Canada and we continue to work tirelessly to secure their immediate release,” the statement read.

Former diplomat and NGO worker Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor were arrested in China just nine days after Huawei heiress Meng Wanzhou (孟晚舟), the chief financial officer of the company, was taken into custody in Canada in December of 2018.

Meng, who was detained on charges related to bank fraud and violations of American sanctions on Iran, is currently living under house arrest in her Vancouver home while she fights extradition to the U.S.

The case against Meng has strained Canada-China relations intensely, and the charges against Kovrig and Spavor are widely seen as a form of hostage diplomacy, with suggestions of a potential quid pro quo release deal having been made by the Chinese side at times — a possibility Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has ruled out.

Vice President Kamala Harris in early February told Trudeau that the U.S. would do “everything it can” to secure the release of Kovrig and Spavor, and President Joe Biden echoed her remarks several weeks later.

China’s announcement of the trial comes on the eve of the first high-level U.S.-China talks of the Biden administration, with a meeting set to take place on Friday in Anchorage, Alaska, between American Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (王毅) and senior diplomat Yang Jiechi (楊潔篪).