China Power

After US Places Huawei on Blacklist, China Formally Arrests 2 Canadians for Spying

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China Power

After US Places Huawei on Blacklist, China Formally Arrests 2 Canadians for Spying

The triangular row between China, the United States, and Canada over Huawei is getting even more dramatic.

After US Places Huawei on Blacklist, China Formally Arrests 2 Canadians for Spying
Credit: Illustration by Catherine Putz

On May 15, the U.S. Commerce Department announced that it is adding Chinese telecoms giant Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and its 70 affiliates to its “Entity List,” based on the conclusion that “Huawei is engaged in activities that are contrary to U.S. national security or foreign policy interest.” This move will ban U.S. companies from selling or transferring U.S. technology to Huawei without U.S. government approval.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement that the decision — backed by U.S. President Donald Trump — will “prevent American technology from being used by foreign owned entities in ways that potentially undermine U.S. national security or foreign policy interests.”

Hours after the U.S. Commerce Department’s action, Beijing confirmed that Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, two Canadian citizens who have been detained in China since last December, had been formally arrested for spying.

As The Diplomat has been closely following, the triangular row between China, the United States and Canada over Huawei is both complicated and dramatic.

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer and deputy chair of Huawei as well as a daughter of Huawei’s founder Ren Zhengfei, was arrested in Vancouver, British Columbia on December 1, 2018, at the request of U.S. law enforcement authorities. Meng is accused by the U.S. authorities of having misled multinational financial institutions about Huawei’s control of a company called Skycom operating in Iran between 2009 and 2014. If found guilty of the charges, Meng could face a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.

Days after Meng’s arrest in Vancouver, China detained Spavor and Kovrig “on suspicion of engaging in activities that harm China’s state security.”

Canada criticized China for denying Spavor and Kovrig access to their families or lawyers, while a large number of foreign former diplomats, scholars, and analysts called on Beijing to release the pair.

At the regular press briefing on May 16, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told the press that both Canadians had “recently” been arrested with the approval of Chinese procuratorial organs. Specifically, Lu added that Kovrig was arrested on suspicion of “secretly gathering state secrets and intelligence for foreign forces” while Spavor is accused of “stealing and illegally providing state secrets for foreign forces.”

“I need to make it clear to the Canadian side that, like we said on previous occasions, China has taken compulsory measures on the two Canadians in accordance with law,” Lu added. “The actions we have taken are entirely law-based. We hope the Canadian side does not make irresponsible remarks on it.”

Canada’s foreign affairs department said in a statement earlier that “Canada strongly condemns” China’s “arbitrary arrest” of the two Canadians. The statement reiterated Canada’s demand that “China immediately release Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor.”

Notably, Lu refused to reveal where the Canadians have been transferred to. Nor did Lu give an exact date of their formal arrests.

It’s worth mentioning that China’s decision to confirm the two Canadians’ arrests came right after the U.S. action against Huawei. The coincident timing confirmed many China watchers’ suspicions that China is using the Canadian citizens to retaliate for U.S. actions against Huawei.