Canada’s ambassador met in Beijing Friday with a detained former diplomat for the first time since he was arrested in China amid sharpening East-West tensions over trade and other issues.
Michael Kovrig, the former diplomat, and a second Canadian, Michael Spavor, were taken into custody earlier in the week after a top
Chinese tech executive was arrested in Vancouver at the request of the United States.
Canada’s foreign ministry said its ambassador to Beijing, John McCallum, was granted consular access to Kovrig and is pressing for access to Spavor. Speaking to The Canadian Press, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau predicted that access would take place “shortly.”
“We are being absolutely clear on standing up for our citizens who have been detained, trying to figure out why, trying to work with China to demonstrate that this is not acceptable,” he told Citytv in Toronto.
Meanwhile in Washington, Canada’s foreign and defence ministers held talks with their US counterparts on the row.
The Canadians were arrested for what China has said is suspicion of “harm to national security” — a phrase often used by Beijing when alleging espionage.
But the detentions are widely believed to be retaliation for Canada’s arrest on December 1 of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei.
Meng was arrested while changing planes in Vancouver, outraging China and sparking a diplomatic standoff between the North American allies and Beijing.
“This is one of the situations you get in when the two largest economies in the world, China and the United States, start picking a fight with each other,” Trudeau said.
“The escalating trade war between them is going to have all sorts of unintended consequences for Canada, potentially the entire global economy. We are very worried about that.”
The United States has accused Meng of lying to bankers about the use of a covert subsidiary to sell to Iran in breach of sanctions. If convicted, she faces more than 30 years in prison.
On Tuesday, a Canadian judge ordered Meng’s release on 10 million Canadian dollars (USD 7.5 million) bail, pending a US extradition hearing.
Canadian Tourism Minister Melanie Joly, meanwhile, shelved a trip to China next week to promote tourism.
Since Beijing approved Canada as a tourist destination for its citizens in 2010, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Canada has risen by 20 per cent per year to almost 7,00,000 in 2017.
Ottawa had hoped to double the figure by 2021, opening seven new visa application offices in China this year to facilitate the processing of travel documents. But those targets are now in doubt amid a public backlash in China.