This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
China has signaled it will move ahead soon with the trials of two Canadian nationals held on “spying” charges, according to a report in a newspaper controlled by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Canadian nationals Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who face spying charges, will soon be tried, the Global Times newspaper cited a person familiar with the matter as saying.
Kovrig stands accused of using an ordinary passport and business visa to enter China “to steal sensitive information and intelligence through contacts in China since 2017,” the paper said.
Spavor’s charges rest on the allegation that he was “a key source of intelligence” for Kovrig, the paper said.
Kovrig and Spavor were detained days after the arrest of Huawei Technologies’ chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, sparking criticism that the move was a form of “hostage diplomacy” on the part of Beijing.
They stand accused of “stealing and illegally offering state secrets abroad,” and are being held at an unknown location under “residential surveillance at a designated location.”
Neither has been allowed access to a lawyer, and they have had visits only from consular staff, which have been suspended since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Another source close to the matter told the Global Times previously that due to the COVID-19 epidemic situation, the hearings for both cases have yet to commence, and the court will push forward the trial soon,” the report said.
Meng was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1, 2018 pending a U.S. extradition request.
China has repeatedly called for Meng’s release, and has warned Canada that it could face consequences for aiding the United States in her case.
The espionage charges are deemed “particularly serious” by state prosecutors, meaning that Kovrig, 50, and Spavor, 44, could face sentences of anything between 10 years and life imprisonment.
Meng, the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, lost a legal bid to avoid extradition to the United States to face bank fraud charges, and the case isn’t likely to be decided finally until May.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier this month that the spying charges against Kovrig and Spavor were trumped-up, warning that Ottawa won’t give in to political pressure from Beijing to release Meng.
“It is obvious that the two Michaels were arrested on trumped-up national security charges days after we fulfilled our extradition treaty responsibilities toward our ally, the United States,” Trudeau told reporters on March 3.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has indicated that Washington will continue to work with Canada to get Kovrig and Spavor released.
“We stand strongly with Canada when it comes to the need to see the two Michaels released immediately and unconditionally,” Blinken told Canadian public service broadcaster CBC on Feb. 28.
“We will continue to stand with Canada on that. I’ve made that clear in my own conversations with Chinese counterparts. And we look forward to the day when they’re able to return home,” he said, suggesting that his administration is unlikely to reverse the process started under the Trump administration.
“Using people, human beings, as pawns for political purposes is totally unacceptable conduct by any country,” he said.
A recent Canadian opinion poll found that more than half of respondents view China as the biggest security threat facing their country, followed by Russia and North Korea.
In a survey published in March 2021 by Maru Public Opinion, 55 per cent of respondents said that a global war is already happening in the form of “death by a thousand cuts,” in which some countries use “ongoing activities to destabilize, disrupt and undermine” the sovereignty and political institutions of others.