Canadian Michael Spavor detained in China as Huawei row continues

Michael Spavor with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (2013)Image copyrightAFP
Image captionMr Spavor met North Korea’s Kim Jong-un during his 2013 visit to Pyongyang

A second Canadian has been detained in China on the same accusation of harming national security, as tension continues between the two countries.

It was confirmed on Thursday that Michael Spavor, a businessman, had been detained in addition to former diplomat Michael Kovrig.

Canada drew Chinese protests after it arrested an executive at telecoms giant Huawei at the request of the US.

Meng Wanzhou has been bailed but may face extradition for fraud.

She denies violating US sanctions on Iran through Huawei’s business dealings and China has threatened unspecified consequences if she is not released.

So high-profile is the case that US President Donald Trump has said he could intervene if it helps to avoid a further decline in US relations with China.

Who are the two Canadians?

Michael Spavor is a businessman based in Dandong, near the Chinese border with North Korea. He has deep ties to the North Korean government.

Ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig currently works for a think tank, the International Crisis Group (ICG), which has said it is concerned for his health and safety.

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Timeline of events

1 December: Meng Wanzhou arrested in Canadian city of Vancouver at the request of the US as part of an inquiry into alleged sanctions-busting by her company Huawei

10 December: Canadian former diplomat Michael Kovrig arrested in Beijing “on suspicion of engaging in activities that harm China’s state security”

11 December: Meng Wanzhou released on bail but still faces the prospect of extradition to the US

12 December: China confirms the detention of businessman Michael Spavor for “activities that endanger China’s national security”, saying the investigation began on 10 December

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He is being held officially “on suspicion of engaging in activities that harm China’s state security”.

Michael KovrigImage copyrightAFP
Image captionMichael Kovrig was working for a think tank that focuses on conflict reduction research

However, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Lu Kang, suggested another reason, saying the ICG had not been registered as a non-governmental organisation in China and therefore it was unlawful for its staff to work there.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland has said Mr Kovrig’s case was raised directly with Chinese officials.

Foreign ministry spokesman Guillaume Bérubé confirmed that Mr Spavor had contacted them earlier in the week because “he was being asked questions by Chinese authorities”.

Canada is working hard to determine Mr Spavor’s whereabouts, Mr Bérubé said.

Michael Spavor (L) in North Korea with former NBA star Dennis Rodman (right) (3 Sept 2013)Image copyrightAFP
Image captionMichael Spavor (left) helped arrange ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman’s trip to North Korea in 2013

China state media confirmed on Thursday that, as with the previous arrest, Mr Spavor was under investigation on suspicion of “engaging in activities that endanger China’s national security”.

Mr Spavor runs an organisation called Paektu Cultural Exchange, which organises business, culture and tourism trips to North Korea.

He is a regular visitor to North Korea and regularly comments in the media on Korean issues. He is particularly well known for helping to arrange the visit by former NBA star Dennis Rodman to North Korea in 2013.

Rodman is a personal friend of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

One of Mr Spavor’s last tweets, on Sunday, said he was about to travel to Seoul in South Korea, but he did not arrive on Monday as planned.

Why was Meng arrested?

The former Canadian resident was detained in Vancouver where she has family and property connections.

She was granted bail of C$10m (£6m; $7.4m) on Tuesday but could still be extradited to the US.

Court sketch of Meng Wanzhou during her bail hearing in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada 7 December 2018Image copyrightREUTERS

The US has been investigating Huawei, one of the world’s largest smartphone makers, since 2016, believing that it used a subsidiary to bring US manufacturing equipment and millions of dollars in transactions to Iran illegally.

The Supreme Court of British Columbia was told Ms Meng had used a Huawei subsidiary called Skycom to evade sanctions on Iran between 2009 and 2014.

She had allegedly misrepresented Skycom as being a separate company.

Ms Meng faces up to 30 years in prison in the US if found guilty of the charges, the Canadian court heard.

Are the arrests in China an act of retaliation?

After the detention of Mr Kovrig, Canada said there was no “explicit indication” of any link to the Meng case but China experts doubted that it was just a coincidence.

Guy Saint-Jacques, Canada’s former ambassador to China, told Canadian broadcaster CBC: “In China there are no coincidences… If they want to send you a message, they will send you a message.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Western diplomat in China told Reuters news agency: “This is a political kidnapping.”

Asked if the detention of the two Canadians was in response to Ms Meng’s arrest, China’s foreign ministry spokesman described it as an “operation taken by China’s relevant national security authorities in accordance with the laws”.

Lu Kang said Ms Meng’s arrest was “wrong practice”, adding: “I can point out that, since the Canadian government took the wrong action at the request of the US and took Meng Wanzhou into custody, many Chinese are wondering if their trips to Canada are safe.”

Related Topics

More on this story

  • Huawei: The life of Chinese tech heiress Meng Wanzhou
    11 December 2018
  • Canada is seeking consular access to ex-diplomat detained in China
    12 December 2018
  • Huawei arrest puts ‘bullseye’ on Apple
    11 December 2018

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