OTTAWA — Beijing has pushed back against Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne's most recent call for the release of two Canadians detained in China, saying it is up to Canada to make the first move to secure their release.
Champagne raised the cases of former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor on Tuesday during a meeting with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Rome, which the Canadian minister is visiting as part of a multi-country tour.
The two Michaels were arrested in apparent retaliation shortly after Canadian authorities in Vancouver detained Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei. She is wanted in the United States on fraud charges.
Meng, who has denied any wrongdoing, is now facing possible extradition to the U.S. while Chinese authorities have indicted the detained Canadians on what many observers believe are trumped-up spying charges.
"I would like to stress once again that things between China and Canada have come to this stage not because of China," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said during a news conference in Beijing on Wednesday.
"The Canadian side is well aware of the crux of the problem. It should take immediate and effective measures to correct the mistakes and create conditions for bilateral relations to return to the right track."
The comments appear to pour cold water on hopes that Champagne's meeting with Wang in Rome would lead to a breakthrough for the two Michaels.
A summary of the ministers' meeting released by Global Affairs Canada said the two discussed the importance of global co-operation in dealing with COVID-19, including when it comes to developing and rolling out a vaccine.
"Minister Champagne again reiterated that the cases of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor remain a top priority for the Government of Canada and that Canada continues to call on China to immediately release both men," the department added.
Champagne was also said to have asked for clemency for all Canadians sentenced to death in the country. Four Canadians found guilty of drug charges have been sentenced to death since Meng was arrested in December 2018.
Global Affairs Canada repeated past calls for immediate consular access to the two Michaels, who have not been allowed to see Canadian officials since January. The department has accused China of violating international law.
The back and forth follows calls from former Canadian politicians and ambassadors for the federal Liberal government to intervene in the extradition process and free Meng to secure the release of Kovrig and Spavor.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said doing so would encourage more countries to arbitrarily arrest Canadians to put pressure on Ottawa for their own interests.
Meng's legal team recently suffered a defeat in its bid to stop extradition proceedings against their client as a federal court judge rejected their requests for the contents of six confidential documents to be released.
Justice Catherine Kane's Aug. 21 ruling, made public on Tuesday, found the information contained in the documents was not relevant to the allegations of abuse described by Meng's legal team.
Kane added that the attorney general of Canada and a friend of the court submitted a joint proposal that included the lifting of some redactions, but they agreed disclosing the remainder would hurt national security or international relations.
The friend of the court is a lawyer with security clearance who was appointed to view the documents and advise Meng's team on whether any were worthy of dispute, but he was not allowed to share their contents.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 26, 2020.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press