detained in China less than two weeks after a senior Huawei executive was arrested in Canada is being investigated for suspected involvement in “activities harming China’s national security,” according to a report released on Wednesday night by state-run media.he former Canadian diplomat who was
Michael Kovirg’s detention became international news on Tuesday. Kovrig worked as a diplomat from 2003 to 2016 with stints in Beijing and Hong Kong. His current employer is the think tank International Crisis Group (ICG) which released a short statement on Tuesday saying that it was “doing everything possible to secure additional information on Michael’s whereabouts as well as his prompt and safe release.”
At this time, almost nothing is known about Kovrig’s detention apart from a report published on Wednesday by the Beijing News which said that Kovrig was being investigated by the Beijing State Security Bureau on suspicion of actions “harming state security,” a vague term that could cover a wide variety of crimes including spying. Colleagues fear that Kovrig may be charged with espionage.
Prior to the state media report coming out, ICG president Robert Malley had dismissed any speculation that his organization had engaged in any sort of nefarious activities against China, telling Reuters:
I don’t want to speculate as to what’s behind it but I am prepared to be categorical about what’s not behind it, and what’s not behind it is any illegal activity or endangering of Chinese national security. Everything we do is transparent, it’s on our website. We don’t engage in secretive work, in confidential work.
At a press conference on Wednesday, foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said that he had no information to offer about Kovrig, but declared that ICG is not legally registered in mainland China, adding that its staff carrying out activities on the mainland would violate China’s harsh new NGO laws.
The timing of Kovrig’s detention has sparked obvious speculation that it comes in retaliation for Canadian authorities arresting Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and the daughter of the company’s founder, on December 1st at the Vancouver airport. The arrest came at the request of the United States, which is investigating Huawei for violating sanctions against Iran.
Meng’s arrest has infuriated China which has warned that Canada will face “serious consequences” if she is not quickly released. It’s not yet clear if the two cases are connected, however, the Canadian and American business community in China have been living in fear of possible reprisals.
When asked on Tuesday by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation about whether Kovrig’s detention was just a coincidence, former Canadian ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, did not hold back, saying: “In China there are no coincidences. In this case it is clear the Chinese government wants to put maximum pressure on the Canadian government.”
In an article for Canada’s The Star, former China-based correspondent Joanna Chiu describes her friend Michael Kovrig as a “China nerd” who took a leave of absence from Canada’s global affairs department in order to stay in the country.
“He loved China,” Kovrig’s former boss Saint-Jacques told Chiu. “I told him you can take a leave of absence from the government and try to find something, and good luck with your plans. And that’s why he decided to stay and enjoy living and working in China.”