As trials loom, China says case of two Michaels handled 'in accordance with the law'

·3 min read

WASHINGTON — China is defending the way it has handled the cases of two Canadians who have been detained in the country for more than two years.

Michael Spavor is scheduled to appear in court on Friday, while Michael Kovrig's hearing is slated to take place Monday.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian insists the cases have been handled in accordance with the law, as well as the rights of the two Michaels.

Canada disagrees: Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau calls their detention "arbitrary" and accuses China of a lack of transparency.

Garneau says Canada learned of the hearings only Wednesday, on the eve of today's high-level U.S.-China meeting in Alaska.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to bring up the two Michaels, who have been in custody since Canada arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in December 2018.

"Chinese judicial organs handle cases independently in accordance with the law and fully guarantee the lawful rights of the individuals concerned," Zhao told a media briefing early today.

He also insisted China has respected the terms of two key agreements: the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the China-Canada Consular Agreement.

And he denied speculation that the timing of the hearings was tied to the Alaska meetings.

"It is not linked to China-U.S. high-level strategic dialogue," Zhao said.

Garneau said Canada is working "tirelessly" to secure the release of the two men, and has asked for continued consular access as well as the opportunity to attend the hearings.

"Canadian officials will continue to provide consular support to these men and their families during this unacceptable ordeal."

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that China will use the meeting to ask the U.S. to lift sanctions imposed by the former Trump administration on certain Chinese nationals and entities, including Huawei.

The two men, known to many around the world simply as "the two Michaels," were detained in December 2018, just days after police in Vancouver arrested Meng, Huawei's chief financial officer and the daughter of the company's founder.

Meng was detained at the behest of the U.S. Justice Department, which is seeking her extradition to face fraud and conspiracy charges linked to what prosecutors say was an elaborate effort to evade American sanctions against Iran.

Critics and allies alike have described their detention as retribution for Canada's role in detaining Meng, currently at the centre of an ongoing extradition hearing in Vancouver.

Blinken and President Joe Biden recently joined the roster of world leaders who have spoken up on behalf of Kovrig and Spavor, part of an ongoing reset of Canada-U.S. relations in the post-Trump era.

"Human beings are not bartering chips," Biden said following a virtual summit with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last month.

That same week, Blinken pledged "absolute solidarity" with Canada after his own virtual conference with Garneau and a host of other Canadian officials, including Kirsten Hillman, Canada's ambassador to the U.S.

Blinken also cheered the Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations, a Canadian initiative comprising a coalition of more than 50 countries opposed to the state-sponsored political detention of foreign nationals.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 18, 2021.

The Canadian Press