Give one, take two: China responds to Canada’s ‘exchange’ offer

Releases two Canadian nationals after Canada sets free Huawei CFO, Meng Wanzhou, who was accused of fraud

Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor (center) at an airport in Canada on Saturday after their release. Pic: Twitter.

Hours after Canada declared it will release Huawei Technologies Chief Finance Officer, Meng Wanzhou, detained in 2018 for financial frauds, China said it will set free two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, without giving reasons for letting them go.

Wanzhou returned to China on Saturday evening, while Kovrig and Spavor reached Canada the same day.

The Canadian authorities apprehended 49-year-old Meng Wanzhou at the Vancouver International Airport on December 1, 2018. Reuters said that Canada acted on the advice of the United States for Ms Wanzhou’s alleged involvement in bank and wire fraud and misleading HSBC bank in 2013 about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran.

Meng Wanzhou is the daughter of billionaire Ren Zhengfei, who founded Huawei Technologies, a Chinese tech company that designs, develops and sells telecommunications equipment and consumer electronics. Meng joined Huawei in 1993 and has been fighting extradition to the US since her arrest in 2018.

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According to the US, Huawei overlooked US sanctions on Iran to clear transactions and provide financial aid to Huawei’s Iran-based sister company Skycom. The US authorities, under then President Donald Trump, had charged Wanzhou of helping Huawei evade sanctions on Iran and book profit by stealing data and technologies from western companies.

Exactly nine days after Wanzhou’s arrest, China arrested Canadian nationals Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. While generally it was perceived as China’s retaliatory action to Wanzhou’s arrest, the Chinese government has denied the charge. The two Michaels (Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor ) were charged for national security crimes.

Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, is an adviser to NGO named International Crisis Group, which is active in diffusing international conflicts in China, Japan and the Korean peninsula.

The New York Times quoted Chinese officials saying Kovrig was arrested in a case pertaining to registration of the International Crisis Group.

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Michael Spavor is an entrepreneur who promoted trips to North Korea. China charged Spavor, who would travel to North Korea often, of national security crimes. However, the Chinese never came out clear on why and how the two Michaels were a threat to their national security.

The US charge that Spavor and Kovrig were arrested in response to Wanzhou’s arrest gained strength when China released the two immediately after Canada announced the release of Wanzhou. This, when Michael Spavor was sentenced to 11-year jail term recently by a Chinese court for spying.

As usual, China refused to give any reason for the release of the two Canadians.

International experts say this was part of China’s plan of “hostage diplomacy” — the act of detaining people for diplomatic reasons.

Meanwhile, US Secretary Of State Antony J. Blinken welcomed the release of two Canadian nationals. Blinken issued a statement saying, “The US Government stands with the international community in welcoming the decision by People’s Republic of China authorities to release Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig after more than two-and-a-half years of arbitrary detention. We are pleased that they are returning home to Canada.”

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