(Bloomberg) -- China is now linking the cases of two Canadians seized after the arrest of a top Huawei Technologies Co. executive in Vancouver on a U.S. extradition request, sparking a bitter diplomatic feud.
A news portal run by China’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission said Monday that Michael Kovrig -- on leave from a job in Canada’s foreign service -- had “severely” violated Chinese law by spying and stealing state secrets while working for the International Crisis Group. It also said Michael Spavor, an entrepreneur who ran tours into North Korea, was Kovrig’s primary contact and supplied him with intelligence.
The report is an escalation in China’s case against the two men, both of whom were arrested on Dec. 10 in what analysts see as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and daughter of its founder.
While Meng is living under house arrest at one of her luxurious Vancouver homes pending an extradition hearing, the two Canadians remain captive in China’s opaque legal system. Canadian authorities have been granted only sporadic access to them.
Like the arrests themselves, the timing of Monday’s report on Chinapeace.gov.cn suggests Kovrig and Spavor’s cases are tied to that of the Huawei executive. On Friday, Canada’s justice department officially ordered the start of the extradition process, which could take years to complete. Meng sued Canadian authorities the same day, alleging she was wrongfully detained and searched.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government is “very concerned with this position that China has taken,” adding that Canada would continue to follow the rule of law in the case.
“We will ensure that that rule of law is fully respected and we will go through those processes in a proper and rigorous way,” Trudeau told reporters Monday in Prince Edward Island. “It is unfortunate that China continues to move forward on these arbitrary detentions. We will continue to stand up for these Canadians.”
The government-run news portal alleges Kovrig stole state secrets through a contact in China since 2017, and entered the country on business visas with an ordinary passport -- an apparent rejection of any claim to diplomatic immunity.
“China will handle the case in accordance with law and guarantee the legitimate rights of Kovrig and Michael Spavor, and will arrange for related matters such as consular visits,” the report said.
A court appearance on Wednesday in Vancouver is expected to set the date of Meng’s first formal extradition hearing.
(Updates with Trudeau comment in 6th and 7th paragraphs.)
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