Canadians detained in China: new consular access

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Canada was able to have a new “virtual” contact with two of its nationals imprisoned in China for espionage, and whose detention Ottawa considers “arbitrary”, announced the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

This is the second consular access of this type in two months, after a previous one in October. Visits had been suspended for several months by the Asian country due to the Covid-19 epidemic.

A former diplomat, Michael Kovrig, and a consultant specializing in North Korea, Michael Spavor, have been jailed in China since December 10, 2018. They were charged with espionage last June.

Their detention is considered by Ottawa as a retaliatory measure, after the arrest a few days earlier in Canada of Meng Wanzhou, financial director of private Chinese telecoms giant Huawei.

These two cases have caused a serious diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

Canadian Ambassador to China Dominic Barton was granted “virtual consular access” to Michael Spavor on November 10, and Michael Kovrig on November 19, the Canadian Foreign Ministry said.

“The Government of Canada remains deeply concerned about the arbitrary detention of these two Canadians (…) and continues to call for their immediate release,” according to the statement released Thursday, Canadian time.

The purpose of consular visits is to assess the condition of a detainee, to clarify the nature of his detention, to provide advice or to serve as a channel of communication between him and his relatives.

They were regular last year, but had been suspended in January by China amid fear of the spread of Covid-19.

During the consular access in October, Michael Kovrig was “very relieved to receive news from the outside world” and surprised to learn the extent of the epidemic, his wife Vina Nadjibulla told Canadian media.

Beijing has firmly rejected Canadian accusations of “arbitrary detention”.

“What the Canadian authorities are doing with Meng Wanzhou is what is called arbitrary detention,” replied at the beginning of November a spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Ms. Meng lives under house arrest in Vancouver, where she was arrested in early December 2018 during a stopover at the airport.

This arrest followed a request from the United States, which accuses it of bank fraud and of having bypassed American sanctions against Iran. They are calling for his extradition.

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