Two Canadian detainees in China were charged with spying Friday, in what officials are saying is an attempt to pressure Canada to drop charges against a top Huawei executive under house arrest in Vancouver.
One of the Canadian citizens, Michael Kovrig, was charged on suspicion of spying for state secrets and intelligence, while the other Canadian citizen, Michael Spavor, was charged on suspicion of spying for a foreign entity and illegally providing state secrets.
“We are using a wide range of public and private pressures to ensure that everything is being done to get these Michaels home,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.
Trudeau also said he was “very disappointed” by the Chinese rulings and said it was a clear attempt to put pressure on Canadian authorities to release Meng Wanzhou, who was has was placed under house arrest in December 2018.
Meng is the daughter of the founder of Huawei, the second largest smart phone supplier in the world and seen as a threat by the U.S. and allied nations when it comes to the development of 5G and how China may be able to use the technology for espionage practices globally.
The U.S. charged Meng with fraud and seeking to break U.S. sanctions against trade with Iran. She was arrested at the Vancouver airport as she was reportedly preparing to leave the country. Meng has been under house arrest since she posted the bond of $10 million Canadian dollars, roughly $7.4 million U.S. dollars.
“The Chinese authorities have directly linked the case of the two Michaels to the judicial proceedings against Mrs. Meng, which is extremely disappointing,” Trudeau said Friday. “These Canadian citizens are being held for no other reason than the Chinese government being disappointed with the independent proceedings of the Canadian judiciary.”
Both Kovrig and Spavor have been held for 18 months and were detained shortly after Meng’s arrest in 2018.
The arrest of Meng has further strained relations between the United States and China — again amplified after a Canadian judge ruled last month that the case against Meng’s extradition could proceed to the next stages.
“The facts are clear and the evidence solid and sufficient,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Friday.
Zhao also said that each man was charged with “secretly gathering state secrets for overseas forces with particularly serious consequences."
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has being highly critical of China’s Huawei involvement in Europe.
Speaking during a Copenhagen Democracy Summit Friday, Pompeo said, “Everyone in this room knows that the Chinese Communist Party strong-arms nations to do business with Huawei, an arm of the CCP’s surveillance state.”
“The choice isn’t between the United States; it’s between freedom and tyranny,” Pompeo added.
The U.S. and Australia have banned all Huawei products, declaring they are a part of a Chinese military plot to collect intelligence. The U.S. has encouraged its allies in Europe and Canada to follow suit.
Pompeo could not be immediately reached for comment on the charges against Kovrig and Spavor.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.