pair of Canadian nationals who were detained in China in December have now been accused of conspiring together to “steal state secrets.”
Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were both picked up in early December on suspicion of “harming state security.” Kovrig is a former Canadian diplomat who now works for the NGO think tank International Crisis Group (ICG). Spavor, meanwhile, is the founder and director of the Paektu Cultural Exchange, a non-profit that is based in the border city of Dandong and organizes trips to North Korea.
Their detentions came in the week after Canada arrested Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou at the behest of authorities in the US where she is wanted for violating sanctions against Iran. Meng’s arrest infuriated China which warned that Canada would face “serious consequences” if she was not quickly released.
As Meng’s case progressed in Canada, Chinese authorities remained quiet about the case against Kovrig and Spavor. However, that changed on Monday with China’s official Xinhua news agency releasing a short report with information from the Communist Party’s Legal Affairs Commission.
The report accuses Kovrig of stealing sensitive Chinese intelligence, naming Spavor as his main contact. It emphasizes that Kovrig entered China numerous times with an ordinary passport and business visas (i.e. not as a diplomat), and “severely violated” national laws.
No details about what sort of secrets Kovrig allegedly stole are given. The report claims that “significant progress” has been made in the case and further judicial proceedings will begin at an appropriate time.
This announcement comes only days after Ottawa decided to proceed along with Meng’s extradition hearing despite protests from China. Meng has already reacted by suing the Canadian government over her detention while Huawei is reportedly planning to sue the US.